Community Advocacy: How to advocate for positive change in your community

Community Advocacy: How to advocate for positive change in your community

By: Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, director of government relations at the Greater Naples Chamber

Advocacy can play an important role in building a stronger community, but the prospect can be intimidating for people or organizations that haven’t been involved in this type of work before.

While many discussions about advocacy and public policy tend to focus on national trends, community-level advocacy is just as important as what happens on the national stage. By becoming engaged at the local level, people and organizations can have a direct impact on the policies that affect them most.

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Community advocacy can be:

· Asking your local legislator to support increased funding for mental and behavioral health services.

· Arranging a meeting of community leaders to better educate them on the importance of increased access to mental and behavioral health services.

· Speaking at a local government meeting about your experience with mental and behavioral health providers.

At the Greater Naples Chamber, we pride ourselves as being the voice of business in Collier County. We regularly advocate for policies and initiatives that support our economy. This includes supporting efforts at the local, state and federal levels aimed at improving access to mental and behavioral health services, like those offered by David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health (DLC). We know that increased access to care, along with the necessary funding to better serve those in need, is important to the long-term health of our community.

The Chamber has served as an advocate for mental and behavioral health for several years. In 2018, the Chamber supported the passage of a seven-year, one-cent infrastructure sales surtax. The local option sales tax, which was approved by the voters, is expected to raise $490 million countywide by 2025, of which $25 million will be used to construct a mental health central receiving center near the DLC’S main campus. While the Chamber served as the lead advocate for this campaign, it would not have been successful without the support of other advocates, including DLC.

While this is an example of what community advocacy can look like on a large scale, it’s important to know that small scale advocacy efforts can make a big effort. Something as simple as sending an email to a county commissioner or signing a petition can go a long way toward impacting change.

Tips for advocating for your community:

Be informed: The best way to be an effective advocate is to make sure you understand the topic. Reach out to experts, including DLC or the Greater Naples Chamber, who can answer questions about the issue, direct you to other people to talk to and help you craft your message. Being armed with all of the information is the first step toward becoming a successful advocate.

Know the players: Make sure you know who the decisions makers are in your community, and often times that isn’t just the elected official. Take some time to get to know elected officials’ staff members, who are often the last people to talk to them before they make a decision, and staff at organizations that are aligned with your mission.

Build coalitions: Many hands make light work, especially in advocacy, so look for organizations that are working on similar initiatives. Be on the look out for people who feel similarly to you, and want to effect change. You might need to explain to others why a change is beneficial to them or their organizations, but don’t let it deter you.

Show up: Make sure policymakers know where you stand when it’s time to make decisions. While being there the day of a vote isn’t always possible, there’s plenty of ways to make sure you’re in the room where it happens. Write an email or call officials explaining why you support an issue, making sure to ask them to do the same. Schedule a one-on-one meeting to educate them on the issues that are important to you and learn more about how you can work together toward a common goal.

Make the ask: You don’t get what you don’t ask for, so make sure to be clear in your communications with elected officials and staff about what you’re asking for. Make sure your request is clear and concise and includes an ask for them to support your initiative. Remember: A simple message goes a long way in convincing decision makers to join your ranks.

By banding together as advocates, community members can work together to create positive change in their community, ensuring Collier County and Southwest Florida remains the best place in America to live, work and play.

Mar 03, 2022 | Blog

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