Every time I see the ASPCA commercial with the sad, neglected animals and the Sarah McLachlan song playing in the background, I have to change the channel. It’ll ruin my day with all its heartstring-pulling! In addition to making me want to run out and adopt a few dozen pets, it also makes me—as a Director of Communications—a little jealous. Their cause is a winning combination for marketing and fundraising: it is easy to understand and connect with, it appeals to a broad audience, it is highly visual and tangible (how could you say no to the sad puppy eyes?), and they can clearly quantify and demonstrate their impact.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how we, as a community, gain support for our collective cause of better health and a better health care system in Colorado. Every organization in this work has an important role to play in driving the change necessary to achieve our goals, and it is from the diversity of our size, scope, and focus that we derive our strength as a field.
When it comes to serving the public good, there are mainly three kinds of organizations:
- Direct service organizations that respond to immediate needs
- Direct service organizations that work to prevent the problem
- Advocacy organizations that work to eliminate the problem by changing the system
For example, to combat homelessness, we need organizations that provide housing and social services to the homeless, organizations that provide services like rent assistance and mental health care to keep individuals and families from falling into homelessness, and organizations that advocate for public policy and systems change that address the underlying causes of homelessness—such as high housing costs, early childhood trauma, or a lack of economic development opportunities.
In order to drive social change, we must leverage the strengths of each of these kinds of organizations. At CCMU, we deeply appreciate the intensive, hands-on efforts of our partners who do good work daily to serve their clients. We also know that’s not our strength. CCMU’s strengths are in creating widespread opportunities and eliminating systemic barriers to good health as advocates for systems change. And, if we are successful, it will lessen the burden of other organizations that care directly for the underserved.
The best explanation I’ve heard for how society should support social change came from a radio interview with Michael Shapcott, a Canadian public policy researcher. He said that if we really want to make a difference, the formula for success is dedicating one-third of our time, resources, and commitment to each of these three kinds of organizations. I like this not only because it’s helped me rethink my own charitable giving, but also because it so clearly illustrates the connection between and importance of each of our partners’ work.
However, CCMU—as advocates—sometimes struggles to explain and gain support for our work with a broad audience. There isn’t a shortage of Coloradans who want the health system to work better, and for their own families to be able to get the care they need, when they need it; there’s just a shortage of ways to make that mission easy to connect with, visual, and tangible. So we’ll keep working on that. I’m thinking we need more puppies.