Advocacy toolkits: What a difference a month makes




September 2010 is the first National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month (any time Congress agrees unanimously on anything, it gets my attention.) Making it even more official, President Obama sealed the deal in a proclamation. The designation reflects America’s growing, collective understanding of the inestimable costs the public health crisis of childhood obesity imposes on individuals, families and society.

 Numerous organizations and individual advocates encouraged Congress to pass the resolution calling on the President to proclaim National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month (COAM). After passage, many continue as an information coalition advancing the cause. This is not a highly structured, new organization, but rather a diverse array of advocates acting out of common purpose. The HealthierKidsBrighterFutures website, devoted to COAM, provides basic information about the month, links to resources, and a calendar that accepts submissions of local events that encourage healthy lifestyles for children and families.

 An important component of the HealthierKidsBrighterFutures site is a toolkit  with fact sheets, tips on media relations, and templates for news releases, public service announcements and letters-to-the-editor. Sample proclamations suggest Whereases and Therefores suitable for proclamations by mayors and governors. These tools make it easy for advocates to spread the word in their communities. Those who care about the cause—but who may not have experience with publicity or feel fully versed in articulating the issues—can simply adapt the boilerplate language to suit their needs.

 The toolkit approach has borne fruit for many causes. Exercise is Medicine® offers a robust set of links to an Action and Promotion Guide that helps grow what is now a global initiative. In addition to fact sheets, op/ed letters and the like, there are online videos and PowerPointTM files. The strategy works: scores of states, cities and other entities have proclaimed May as Exercise is MedicineTM Month. Looking beyond a 31-day focus, advocates download the tools year-round, building support for physical activity as part of everyone’s individual health plan.

Resources on the American Fitness IndexTM site include the usual toolkit items, plus an array of best practices highlighting local efforts to improve fitness. Here, too, is a mechanism for easy submission of information on programs that can serve as examples to emulate.

 Countless other initiatives use this approach to good advantage. While they take many forms, they have in common the strategy of enlisting advocates and empowering them to take action in their own communities. This not only increases the reach of causes that cannot afford expensive marketing and lobbying campaigns; it rings with the authenticity of those with personal connection to the cause and the motivation to act. The explosive growth of social media brings still more opportunities to build grassroots constituencies, create a buzz and reach decision makers.

How can the toolkit strategy help you build a network of advocates?