We know…you’re wondering if “thousands of media placements” is even possible.
The idea that volunteers can generate a thousand or more media pieces on the organization’s priority issue is first met with disbelief. How is that possible? Volunteers don’t have the time, the motivation, or the information that would produce such a result.
But in 2013 Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers in the U.S. and Canada had more than 1,500 letters to the editor and op-eds published, up from a total of 56 in 2010. In the first seven months of 2014 their volunteers had already surpassed the 1,500 mark. In 1989 RESULTS volunteers in the U.S. had 1,027 pieces published in the print media. If this kind of grassroots media action is possible, why is in not happening much elsewhere?
To really understand why, we have to look at the NGO attitudes that kill citizen empowerment and transformation. Each of these attitudes is a direct quote from NGO staff with whom we have spoken. This first attitude is the beginning of the problem for some organizations:
We can’t have volunteers write letters to the editor and op-eds because they will get it wrong and misrepresent the organization.
If you provide a kindergarten and first grade education to your volunteers, as most NGOs do, of course they will get it wrong. But if you provide a rich offering of monthly conference calls with guest speakers and question and answer sessions, opportunities to practice being more articulate and to write a letter on the issue each month plus additional weekly coaching for the group leaders you’re on your way to creating local spokespersons who won’t get it wrong.
The whole “they’ll get it wrong and misrepresent the organization” attitude also comes from the notion that the organization has media specialists at headquarters who deal with the media. But truth be told, those media specialists are only working with the major newspapers, television and radio networks and social media outlets.
Who is working with the Salt Lake Tribune, the San Diego Union Tribune the Tampa Tribune, and other local newspapers where Congressional constituents live? The answer, of course, is “No one.”
The other argument for not working with the print media is that “newspapers are dying and no one reads them anymore.” One group of people who are reading the local newspapers, however, are Members of Congress and their staff. What other print and online media would they turn to in order to find what people are talking about in their constituency?
Another NGO attitude that kills citizen empowerment and transformation is this one:
We can’t ask too much of our volunteers or they’ll go away.
Of course you can’t ask a great deal from all of your stakeholders, but there are members all around the country who not only want to write a check and sign an online petition but who also want to do much, much more. If we lump them together with all the other members, it is a missed opportunity for the organization and for the volunteer.
Another NGO attitude that keep organizations from generating a thousand or more media pieces each year is this one:
I do this work because I am persuaded by the facts not because of inspiration so I just want to get the facts across to the volunteers, not inspire them.
Few NGOs would say this directly, but their work with volunteers is often devoid of much in the way of inspiration and empowerment. But uninspired volunteers will not take the time to do a little extra research and draft and send a letter to the editor. Why would they?
Many organizations believe that they just don’t have the time, funding or the bandwidth to go on the road to start new groups or to provide much in the way of ongoing support if they do. This is a complete roadblock to extraordinary action with the media. If we won’t provide much in the way of ongoing support we’re back to the kindergarten and first grade offerings which yield largely uninformed volunteers who won’t do much in the way of action and if they do, they may get it wrong.
Another roadblock organizations will cling to is the thought that they are a multi-issue organization and can’t focus on one issue over a year. And besides, they reason:
Volunteers would get bored if we focused on one issue over 12 months.
By and large volunteers must feel confident about their knowledge on a subject before they are willing to speak out publicly. If an NGO changes the issue every couple of months for those working on deep advocacy, then the volunteers lose the continuity and won’t gain the confidence so necessary to speaking out.
In addition to serving the organization’s campaign and raising its profile, 1,500 published letters and op-eds equals 1,500 breakthroughs—1,500 experiences of volunteers realizing “I can do this,” “I can make a difference,” “This is really working” or “This organization is helping me grow and develop as an activist.” That is empowerment and that is what the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation teaches.