140+: In the Moment


ECE Advocacy- Blown Away by 3-D Vision: Three Lessons from PAES, 2010

“Blown away.” That’s a pretty intense declaration. But, in fact, when it comes to my perceptions of the advocacy landscape for early childhood, I feel as though I have just put on high-def, 3-D glasses.  I can see more clearly than ever. After my experience as a participant at the Partnership for Economic Success National Economic Forum on Early Childhood Investment, I feel as though for the past 25+ years in the field I have been  been working with a unidimensional picture.  Many of the misconceptions I had about business support for early learning initiatives have evaporated. I’m invigorated by what I’ve learned.

The Forum was replete with complex information, facts, and data presented by some of the most influential business leaders, politicians, and early learning experts in the country. The primary goal of the Forum is to offer the early learning sector the tools and information we need to develop coalitions “of business leaders advocating for increased investments in early childhood.” The sessions provided participants with the stories they need to tell, the data they need to show, and the tactics they need to use to build a movement and collation with the support of local and national businesses.

Of course, at the very foundation of the event was the fundamental message we all know and espouse:  The first five years of life are the most crucial years for child development. What happens during these years impacts cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development like no other time in a child’s life. We know this. We live it. We tell the story day after day. But, the Forum shed new light (at least for me) on more compelling ways to tell the story so business leaders will join our movement and become our programmatic partners.

Because I spend most of my time thinking about engagement and communication, I see this as a communication issue. Have we been effectively spinning our stories? Are we bringing the right messages and the right people to the table with us? How can we impart our sense of urgency to legislators and to the public?

Three big takeaways from PAES:

1) There’s significant support in the business community for early learning. This was a huge surprise to me. Business leaders see early learning as a workforce issue. They know the work we do is paramount to developing good workers 15 to 20 years forward. They consider investments in early childhood “front-loading” costs because the investment results in higher returns down the line. Smart business leaders know that paying for high-quality early learning programs results in more well-rounded, prepared workers. They also embrace the research that high-quality programs result in lower rates of incarceration, which saves money “downline.”

There’s nothing to fear from approaching businesses for public and legislative support or programmatic partnerships. The business leaders who presented at PAES were aware of the urgency for support for early learning.   Using the powerful detailed and comprehensive communication tools provided by the Partnership, advocates can and should start building support now. In their toolkit, the partnership has put together everything except the moxie you need to start talking with business leaders in your community. You supply the moxie.

2) Strengthen your advocacy position by keeping business leaders by your side. We all know our congressional leaders have heard our stories and our appeals for legislation before. We’re very good at crafting stories about the impact our programs have on the lives of families and children, and we know enough to bring parents and/or children with us to provide personal testimonials about the impact our programs have on their lives.  But, congressional leaders must put the budget and the economy at the forefront of every appeal for legislation and funding. If we have any hope of breaking through to connect with legislators, we have to use the “3-D version” of the story and bring reinforcements with us.  Armed with great tools like those provided by the Partnership, and a business representative from your community, you can offer a more crystallized and well-rounded story that speaks volumes.

3) We must put aside our differences to come together with a common voice and look for incremental “wins.” Differences? In the early care and learning community? Really? Yes. We’ve heard them all play out when it comes to funding at the local AND national level. We debate: Quality vs. Care for All, Pre-K vs. Child Care vs. Head Start (and on and on.) The patchwork of programs and state implementation has created a natural breeding ground for controversy. It’s natural that we all argue as we clamor for the hard-to-come-by dollars and legislation.  It’s time to set those differences aside, and come together with a common voice to show the economic value and impact of high-quality early childhood programs.

There is a narrow window of time in the US right now. The national spotlight is starting to shine on our sector. We need to speak with one voice on a local, state, and national level and set our sights on smaller, more incremental expectations.

Things to do right now:

Leave a comment for me! Let me know what you think, especially if you attended the conference.

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Nurturing Donors Online is NOT Magic

Have you ever been disappointed with the results you are getting with your online fundraising program because you thought it was going to be so easy? As you began the process, you might have thought you’d put a donation button on your web site, and suddenly the donations would start flowing. That is a common misconception, and it’s one that often sabotages online fundraising. Getting donations online requires some effort, some  creativity, and a few key tools.  Of course, you must have online donation software that actually processes the transaction, but that’s only a fraction of the story. You have to set all of the action into play! You have to ask for donations, remind supporters about your great work, and then ask again. Online fundaising should one tactic in your overall fund development toolkit, and should be combined with other strategies. But, if you are asking for donations through postal mail and events, you may miss opportunities to engage donors on the spot, in the moment that they are considering your well crafted appeal. The immediacy of the connection between an email that links to your donation button offers opportunities to capitalize on the natural need for immediate gratification. There’s a natural cycle involved in engaging donors online. It looks like this:

The Online Fundraising Cycle

The Online Fundraising Cycle

What are the two most basic tools you need to make the online fundraising cycle go around?

  1. You’ve got a great website (check?) (Think carefully about what “great” means!)
  2. You are using well designed, high-impact, regularly delivered email newsletters and email blasts to keep your supporters, donors, and constituents informed (check?)(No? Download The Nonprofit Email Marketing Guide from Network for Good.

If you are missing either of these elements in your online fundraising toolkit, it’s time to get to work! Here’s what you can do to improve your organization’s chances of becoming an online fundraising superhero: Your Website and your DonateNow pages When was the last time you took a look at your site as if it was the first time you visited? Sit down at the computer and pretend you have never been there before.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the site provide information that is compelling, complete, and tells the story of your organization’s work?
  • Does it include a form for visitors to complete if they want to learn more about your organization or subscribe to regular email communication from your organization?
  • Do you ask visitors if they would like to receive an email newsletter?
  • Do you know how to capture those addresses and use them to contact potential supporters?

Take a look at the sites of other similar organizations. How does your site look compared to the “competition?”

  • Is  your site as attractive and does it look as professional as the other sites in your field?
  • Are you proud of your site?
  • Would you be proud of your site if a potential grantmaker visited?

Ask a friend to take a tour while you watch. See how that friend gets around and be prepared to ask questions.

  • Is it easy to find your donation links?
  • Do your DonateNow pages tell your story?
  • Can your friend easily describe your work and tell you why your cause is important and worthy?

How did your site stack up? If it did not meet your expectations, don’t worry! Maintaining a website is an ongoing process.  You should expect to care for your site regularly, and do a significant facelift every 2-5 years.  It doesn’t have to be expensive to make sure you are hitting the most important elements. If you need help, take a look at these resources: Web Sites 101 on Fundraising 123 by Network for Good 10-Point Basic Website Checklist for Nonprofits Is Your Website a Tool for Doing? Your Email Newsletters and Email Announcements If you are not using email to communicate with potential and current donors and supporters, it’s time to think about subscribing to a professional email provider. If you already are using a system, consider the following tips to optimize your results:

  • Make sure to place the email newsletter sign-up form in a very visible place on every page of your website.
  • Be sure to ask for donations and link to your donation page in every issue or announcement.
  • Refresh your email list every time you send an announcement or newsletter with the new addresses that have been entered since the last time.
  • Plan an editorial schedule with topics that your donors and supporters are likely to want to know.
  • Be flexible with your editorial schedule. If an emergency or natural disaster occurs, you will want to include information that is interesting and relevant.
  • Write compelling stories about the impact your organization has had. Make them as personal as possible. Think like a donor….they want to know that their donations have had an impact and made a difference for the cause.

There are literally thousands of e-mail marketing systems. Here is a list of a few of them:

MailChimp

VerticalResponse

ConstantContact

EmailNow (Nonprofit Organizations only)

iContact

A Contradiction in Terms: Why This Child Care Advocate Posts Negative Stories About Child Care

The other day, I posted one of my usual missives about the horrible condition of child care in America on my Facebook page. It was just another day in my life in which I try to get people to wake up and smell the coffee about how far we (advocates, parents, child care providers, policy makers, the media, and everyone else) have to go to improve child care. Soon thereafter, and one of my childhood friends who doesn’t really know what I do for a living responded to the post by saying “It’s terrible! And those parents keep on working and sending their children.” I was horrified and quickly deleted the post.

That post made me wake up and smell the coffee about the implications of the messages I send out! I looked back at my Facebook and Twitter posts, and I realized that I’m not completing the thought! People who don’t know me think I am “anti-child care!” Whhhoooa! I know child care, and when done well, it provides children and parents with many positive outcomes. As a matter of fact, high-quality child care includes developmentally appropriate learning opportunities that make the most of the critical early learning years when brain development is most rapid. As a working mother and a child care professional, I know it is simply a necessary fact of life for most people in our nation. Clearly, I support parents and their need to work.

It’s true that based on the reports produced by  my employer, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, I have come to believe that by and large, child care in America is in a deplorable state due to lack of standards, regulations, oversight, and adequate training. I also know, based on my experience as a parent of a child who has been in child care, as a child care center administrator in a multi-site organization dedicated to high-quality early learning experiences,  and as a curriculum and assessment developer, there are examples of wonderful, well-operated programs throughout the country. Because I do know what high-quality child care looks like from the inside, and as someone with experience at the national level, I am passionate that all children and families have the highest quality care.

Why would someone who works on behalf of child care promote negative stories? It seems counter intuitive that advocates would not want to promote the stories of great examples of child care that works. Here’s why I post about negative stories:

• While there are good examples of family child care and child care programs, they are few and far between. A 2006 study by The National Institute of Child Health and Development rated only 10% of programs throughout the nation as “good.” It’s hard to build interest in change when the results are so small.
• NACCRRA’s studies reveal that parents believe the government is doing its part to protect children in child care, when, in fact, there is an alarming lack of standardization and regulation of child care throughout the country.
• There is a general lack of awareness about child care, and as an advocate and the head of Child Care Aware Parent Network, I need to do my part to raise awareness and educate the public.
• The media, policy-makers, and the general public don’t pay attention to the “feel-good” stories.
• The stories of the tragic results of poor child care provide clear illustrations of what needs to be done to improve quality throughout the nation.

I’ve learned that it is important for me to “complete” the thought when I post, so people who read the posts understand that I am not implying that parents should avoid child care, and most importantly, I do not want to make anyone feel guilty about using it. I also don’t want to perpetuate the chasm that exists between working parents and those who have the luxury of a myriad of choices. As a matter of fact, I am posting in order to encourage people to join me, NACCRRA , and our new Child Care Aware Parent Network to advocate for Federal legislation for better regulation, funding, and oversight of child care through states and the local agencies that are tasked with child care licensing. Learn more about our Policy Agenda , and join us to educate the public and advocate for the world-class child care because 11 million children in child care in America are counting on us.