In February at our 2018 Funders Forum, attendees sat down with Chris Ko, United Way of Greater Los Angeles; Julie Patiño, The Denver Foundation; and Alastair Gee, Guardian News & Media, to talk about what makes a successful will-building campaign and how philanthropy can build community support to prevent and end homelessness.
Each community, while different, had similar stories about what it takes to educate and influence residents to support solutions to end homelessness in their backyard:
Find your champions. Messages should be dependent on the audience and who delivers it.
- For example, having a business owner/leader speak about the impact of homelessness on the business community can bring other businesses on board to support solutions.
- Or, have a police officer speak to the public about how the addition of supportive housing in the neighborhood doesn’t increase crime rates as some may assume.
Make it personal. Statistics may be powerful, but making the stories human resonates best with public and moves people.
- For example, connect people experiencing homelessness with their pets. Help others see people experiencing homelessness as neighbors who are trying to take care of their pets.
Help the public think broader about homelessness. People tend to be focused on the unsheltered population and fail to realize there are many people experiencing homelessness that they may not see.
- For example, create messaging like, “For every person you see experiencing homelessness on the streets in our community, there are 12 people who aren’t as visible.”
Speak to the “moveable middle”
- Public will-building campaigns aren’t going to change the minds of people too far on one side or the other. Focus on those in the middle whom you can move with your stories and messaging.
Work with the media
- Educate the media and work with them. This allows you to advance messages by working in tandem and having more control over the narrative.
Start now, so you are prepared later
- This work doesn’t happen overnight. Even if you don’t have a ballot measure coming up for vote in the foreseeable future, it is important to start the will building process now so the community is primed and ready if/when it does come about. The successful ballot measures passing in LA was a process that started back in 2006, almost 10 years prior.
How Can Philanthropy Be Involved In Building Public Will?
- Consider working with a communications firm that understands the issues, can do focus groups, and poll the public. It’s a large expense, but worth the cost.
- Explore opportunities to engage with the media, such as writing op-eds or purchasing advertising space, that can help educate the public.
- Fund media ventures to dive deeper into homelessness issues and stories that capture the impact of housing instability.
- Support your grantees to do listening sessions and public education.
What People Are Doing To Build Public Will
In 2016 and 2017, there were opportunities in Los Angeles to pass ballot measures to increase funding for programs that would reduce and prevent homelessness in both the city of L.A. and L.A. County. To pass these measures (Proposition HHH and Measure H), voter support was critical. A cohort of public and private stakeholders, including the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and California Community Foundation, came together to fund and execute a public will building campaign which included media relations, building public awareness, public polling, community organizing, and securing political and business support. As a result, Proposition HHH was passed in November 2016, followed by the passing of Measure H in March 2017. The Hilton Foundation analyzed the efforts and produced a report of lessons learned so other communities could replicate similar campaigns.
In Denver, The Denver Foundation entered the work to build public will through listening sessions with the community and found that homelessness is a fundamental concern of Denver residents. Based on this knowledge, the foundation created the Close To Home campaign. Close to Home is working to increase awareness that homelessness doesn’t just affect “others,” but that the friends, family, and individuals we come in contact with on a daily basis are experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness. The campaign is an on-going effort in the Denver area and has already seen impact through polling results.
After opening its US bureau, The Guardian decided to make homelessness its focus. It committed to shining a light on the issue by hiring the first ever Homelessness Editor at any major news outlet and in 2017 produced 100 pieces on homelessness and life in America. The Guardian wanted to change the narrative by focusing on the people experiencing homelessness and how they are not receiving the support they desperately need. The campaign, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has brought to the forefront how prevalent and widespread homelessness is and how it is affected by policies, nationally and locally.