10 Principles of beautiful advocacy
October 19, 2011

The aim of last week’s campaign boot camp was to prepare our executive directors for the critical task of building their annual campaign plans, but I think everyone involved in this kick-off of 50CAN University was touched by the experience. For me, I was inspired to put down on paper a set of advocacy principles that we have been developing organically through our work for a long time.

But first a little background.

Steve Jobs has been on my mind a lot since his death on October 5, particularly the collection of quotes that have been surfaced and resurfaced across Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and countless magazine and newspaper articles. One quote I have been thinking a lot about is not even really his: “good artists copy, great artists steal,” which he attributed to Pablo Picasso. (More likely, Jobs was unintentionally paraphrasing T.S. Eliot.)

Jobs seems to have really taken this idea to heart. He drew upon the geniuses of his time and those who came before him to create beautiful technology. One of the people Jobs “stole” from repeatedly was Dieter Rams, the German industrial designer whose work for Braun is a clear inspiration for many Apple products.

This post steals not from Rams’ designs (since 50CAN doesn’t do industry design) but instead from his “10 Principles of Good Design” that guided them.

One of the most frequent questions I get from potential supporters and funders is how 50CAN is different from other groups advocating for education reform. I’ve never liked the question since it seems to pit us against our collaborators and partners in this work. I think a more revealing question is what kind of advocacy organization we are aspiring to be. Or as Dieter Rams put it: “Things which are different in order simply to be different are seldom better, but that which is made to be better is almost always different.” We believe when advocacy is done right, it will not only be naturally different but downright beautiful.

Here are the 10 principles of the “beautiful advocacy” we are working towards:

1. It’s innovative. While we draw our inspiration from the great advocates who came before us (“Our Professors”), we believe that technology offers advocates unprecedented opportunities for innovation. Innovation must never be an end in itself, but a means to more effective advocacy.

2. It gets results that matter. An advocacy campaign is built to change the world for the better. Beautiful advocacy puts the need for meaningful results at the center of its work while leaving behind the extraneous elements that detract from this goal. It defines its results not just by the policies it seeks to change but by the real impact of these changes on the people it serves.

3. It makes policy understandable. There is power in clear communication that results in genuine understanding. Beautiful advocacy explains its policy goals in plain, concise and inclusive language. When done right, the vehicles it uses to communicate these policies reinforce this language with simple and assessable design.

4. It’s honest and open. Beautiful advocacy does not state that a policy is more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the public or policymakers with promises that cannot be kept. It clearly explains where its funding comes from, what commitments were made to secure it and how it is spent. Communications with the public have the same tone, candor, timeliness and information as communications inside the organization.

5. It’s collaborative. Effective advocacy requires coordinated action across a large number of people with rapid turnaround and maximum flexibility. This requires clear, candid and real-time collaboration both internally between departments and externally with the diverse strategic partners required for a complete effort.

6. It’s persistent. Changing things is much harder than preserving the status quo. Failure is likely to be frequent, public and painful. Success only comes from persistence, from refusing to take no for an answer in the face of stiff resistance time and time again.

7. It’s long-lasting. Real change takes a lot longer than anyone wants to admit at the outset. Beautiful advocacy plans for the long term by recruiting staff who look out for each other, making room in its campaigns for people to spend time with their families and providing its volunteers and supporters with the skills, training and knowledge to emerge as future leaders of the movement.

8. It’s thorough down to the last detail. Nothing in an advocacy campaign can be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the advocacy planning process show respect towards the issues and the people we serve. This means only recruiting and collaborating with people absolutely committed to their craft—whether it is building the best database or coordinating a visually powerful rally or drafting the most thoughtful policy proposal.

9. It’s artistic. The aesthetic quality of an advocacy campaign is integral to its success because only art can simultaneously touch the senses, emotions and intellect. It is the soul of every beautiful campaign. Effective advocates respect and honor both art and the artists who create it.

10. It’s less but more. Excellence is a function of focus. Beautiful advocacy concentrates on the essential aspects needed to secure the change it seeks. Its policy goals are limited in number and not obscured by non-essentials elements. It makes efficient use of every advocacy dollar and every advocacy hour. It ensures every element of its advocacy plan is there for a reason.

Tags: Advocate
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