The start of a New Year brings new resolutions, especially for changemakers. As we look ahead, it’s a good time to remember a few of the organizations that did important social change work in 2018.
Because at Prichard we serve foundations, nonprofits and public agencies, we have a ringside seat to see the choices social changemakers make and the difference those decisions can make. Below are three examples that stood out for me this year and the lessons they offer.
Putting Values into Action: The Communications Network
Organizing a conference for almost 1,000 people takes tons of work. Imagine if you had to change your plan a week before your gathering began.
That’s what happened to The Communications Network, the professional association for social change communicators. A few days before the start of ComNet18, the organization’s annual conference in October, hundreds of Marriott workers went on strike at the event hotel in San Francisco.
Instead of asking its members to cross the picket line, the board of The Communications Network made a tough choice: it moved the conference to other venues with less than a week’s notice.
“We wanted to respect the dignity of the workers,” said Sean Gibbons, the organization’s CEO told the San Francisco Chronicle. “From a values perspective, it was a really easy call.”
Switching hotels meant lots of extra work and a few sleepless nights for the board, staff, and volunteers. And there was a financial cost, too. The Communications Network paid $300,000 to change locations.
In spite of the uncertainty caused by the last minute changes, less than 100 people cancelled registrations. Hundreds of others not only came, they moved to new hotels as well. In fact, conference attendance set a record. The organization also received kudos from participants for living up to its values. Many attendees said it was the best ComNet ever.
And workers came out ahead in the end. The strike ended in December and workers in San Francisco got a contract offering higher wages, better pensions, and improvements in health care benefits. Housekeepers, for example, will see raises of up to $4 an hour, up from the current median wage of $23 an hour.
Going Directly to Voters: The Fairness Project
The media today is filled with news about what’s happening at the White House and in the Congress. You might think that politics and policy — and change — can happen only in Washington, DC.
In fact, states have long been laboratories for social change. And ballot measures offer one of the best grass roots tools to make it happen.
A great example of this happened in November. Voters in Idaho, Utah and Nebraska approved the expansion of Medicaid to an estimated 325,000 low income people.
These ballot measures attracted widespread support among conservative voters. And they show that health care expansion advocates can enjoy success by appealing directly to voters.
The nonprofit Fairness Project and local organizers ran the campaigns. This work is a part of a national effort by the nonprofit to bypass executive and legislative opposition to health care expansion and instead let voters decide.
The Fairness Project has now won 16 out of its 17 statewide healthcare ballot campaigns. And it’s now considering Medicaid expansion ballot campaigns in six more states.
Celebrating Resistance: The Disobedience Award
Advocates for change often make others uncomfortable. It’s no surprise why.
The best advocates may take unpopular positions. They ask hard, difficult questions. They insist on holding others accountable. And that leadership often comes with a cost: they may have to put up with threats, attacks and professional consequences.
Here’s some good news for these changemakers: The Disobedience Award celebrates what they do.
According to a story in Science, LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman established the Disobedience Award at MIT’s Media Lab to honor people “who engage in ethical, nonviolent acts of disobedience in service of society.” Reid says he wants “recognize the people who help us look in the mirror and see who our better selves could be.”
Three people shared this year’s award and its $250,000 prize: BethAnn McLaughlin and Sherry Marts, two leaders of the #MeTooSTEM movement, and Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement. Each has lived her values often at considerable cost.
Lessons Learned from These Organizations
- Organizations need to be ready to live their values when faced with tough choices.
- Supporters will respond positively when you follow your values.
- How your organization does business can help bring about change for others.
- Change doesn’t only happen at the national level.
- You can build successful coalitions across the political spectrum.
- Advocacy is not a popularity contest. Sometimes you have to ask uncomfortable questions to make change.
How Does Your Organization Lives Its Values?
At Prichard, sometimes we have to say no to potential clients if their work doesn’t fit within our values. As a Certified B Corp, we only work with organizations that align with our mission. And our partnerships with community groups reflect this. We only give to organizations that align with our values, such as Q Center and KairosPDX.
As you look at your own organization’s values, ask yourself these questions: What do your values require you to do? How does this support your mission? What do you need to do to support your mission?
Would you like to talk more about how your org can live its values? Let’s talk: firstname.lastname@example.org