Moms at Work has become infamous for its innovative coaching programs, collective group space and for being a company that has successfully wrapped advocacy and action into it’s day to day offerings.
I get asked a lot of questions about advocacy work and “how to do it” so I wanted to take a moment to answer them here. BUT - before we start I just want to thank you for trusting me with your questions I have done my best to answer honestly.
To start I want to provide a definition of what an advocate is and why this is an important place to start:
Advocate: a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.
The focus word here is PUBLICLY. So when I talk about advocacy there is an underlying assumption for Moms at Work that you need to be doing more than signing a document or posting online. You need to publicly show up in person, publicly use your platform and privilege to support your idea.
Anything else I lump under awareness or volunteerism which are their own things and have their purpose in changemaking but for the purpose of this piece are not advocacy
Ok so here are the top questions:
I only have a few hours a week what can I do that is meaningful?
Advocacy is slow and painful and really hard to do with volunteers. The projects that we commit to are years in length and the wins are few. That is the truth. If you have a useful skill and a block of hours I would approach an organization with this:
“Hi my name is X - I am a graphic designer and have 10 hours to volunteer during the month of May - would my skill set be helpful for you”
The answer may be no. They may have other roles and jobs available but being specific is really helpful.
What are the top five things I can do to REALLY make a difference with less than 5 hours:
Honestly - lots but not in the way you probably want to do it. They want to show up in the glory moments but not doing the boring work. I get it that is the best part but not the “work” part.
- If you truly want to commit a few hours then yes the absolute best thing you can do is what the organization needs and many of these things we REALLY need people to show up. Showing up at a rally, attending in person, attending council meetings.
- Commit to talking about the topic with 10 people. On social media, share resources, have conversations at work, at holiday dinners. Many of these topics are divisive so use the hours to read books, understand the nuances of the issues so you are better able to talk about them. This is the public part of advocacy.
- Talk to your kids about them. Involve them. This is why #1 - teaching kids to show up for things they believe in is a gift. You have to show them. This is why in person is so important. My kids have been to dozens of rallies - more. They watch, listen and understand. If you want to raise advocates bring them along.
- Donate to organizations with money so they can pay people to do the horrible boring work. These people are a gift pay them.
- Be the person who is at a place EVERY WEEK. The same way you do yoga on Monday nights - be the Monday food server at a soup kitchen, be the person who drives seniors to appointments on Monday. Be that person every week. The consistent person. This is the best gift.
Tell me how I can help! What can I do to help?
This is really frustrating and when people say this online I hope that they don't REALLY expect an answer. One of the things we talk about for women is the "mental load" - please do not expect advocates to fight the fight AND figure it out for you - go back to #1 and you tell us 🙂 Get specific. Tell us the skill you have and the commitment you can make.
If you are at this stage then you probably need to sit down and decide how much time you have to commit so that you can send the email I explained before instead of asking this question.
How do I prevent advocacy burn out?
This question was answered so well by https://faunalytics.org/ that I used their answer.
“Common causes of advocate burnout can be grouped into three main categories: internal stress, external stress, and inter-group stress. Internal stress can refer to any personal angst, dismay, or guilt that an advocate feels about the pace of change, their role in the movement, and/or the extent of the problem they are trying to solve. External stress usually refers to the opponents of advocacy constructing legal or political barriers to progress, or lack of support amongst the general public. Finally, inter-group stress is strongest among already-marginalized advocates like women and people of color, who often find advocacy circles to have their own problems with discrimination. Infighting between organizations is also a common cause of stress, when groups with similar goals refuse to cooperate over ideological or practical disagreements – radicalism vs incrementalism, for example.”
The work of advocacy never causes burnout for me - the real frustration is at the lack of cooperation between organizations fighting the same fight.
It is the horrible and angry emails, FB DMs and hatred from the very people who we are fighting for. People swear at me, threaten me and we run a very fine line knowing that our commitment to these causes makes us a target.
People often feel an entitlement to your space, time and emotions as an advocate. You can, should and will need to say no. Say it hard and say it loud.
Why doesn’t moms at work let people volunteer? (This is a 2 part answer)
Moms at Work is a business. We run programs, sell courses and coaching. From our profits we direct nearly 10% to our advocacy work (Im joking it is more like 25%) in which my staff is well compensated to organize. When you buy from us you are making our advocacy happen.
Our messaging, purpose and advocacy is well organized and we have to respond to meetings within minutes (actual minutes). Media, politicians and organizations work with us because we are GOOD AT OUR JOB and bring expertise in PR, organizing, social media, policy and more. This is not an operation that can be run with volunteers.
We create change in our community, with businesses, with unions, with individuals and in spaces we never imagined.
You can support us by sharing our stuff. Talking about us at your office. Sharing our salary negotiation toolkits and courses with young women. YOU are our biggest advocate. We can’t do this without you. You doing that MATTERS to me.
(Sits up a bit straighter) I understand that the non-profit industrial complex has become deeply embedded in society but I run a profitable business that does not need to be a non-profit. By not taking government or corporate funding it allows us to meet with government officials, be critical of government and “status quo” and support advocates and causes that other people shy away from.
I want you to take a moment and look at EVERY other women’s group (all of them). They exist because of corporate sponsorship and government funding. Taking money from these organizations includes a several page gag clause. It means you commit to not saying anything bad about them. They are silencing them. It is why NO OTHER women’s group does what we do.
Running Moms at Work this way is IN FACT an act of advocacy - to show people that to do good in the world you do NOT need to be a non-profit and that you can make money and make a difference.
Moms at Work refusal to take sponsorship money has resulted in some heated and unpleasant conversations that have included companies saying the following to us:
- We prefer to invest in galas and awards. This is what we are used to - can't you just do that?
- If you don’t play nice no one is going to play with you
- Just sell us your audience we can make so much money off them
- What’s your problem - you can’t OWN Moms at Work (yes Jeff - yes I f*in do)
- If you don’t do this know that you will have no future relationship with us (PS they asked ME for this meeting)
Government listens to businesses - guess what, I am a female founded business. Have a seat - let’s chat.
Moms at Work does indeed ask for and receive help. We have organizing meetings in our Collective membership and have lists in ways people help. By being a paid member of Moms at Work we get to know you as a member, understand the things you can support us with and have and will continue to rely on our members to help us create amazing toolkits, blog posts and to bring us into rooms at their jobs and organizations they work with. Much of what we do comes with risks for those that have full time jobs - and we protect them by publishing work we do "By Moms at Work with the support of the Moms at Work Collective"
To be clear - you DO NOT need to be a member to help us. It helps to share our stuff, to talk about us, introduce us to people. This currently is the best way to help.
So in summary, Moms at Work is not a normal business model.
It is my business and my privilege to be the person who in meetings screams MOMS AT WORK IS NOT FOR SALE.
It is my privilege to have the trust of so many collaborative organizations
It is my privilege to use our platforms to say the things you can not say.
It is my privilege to serve you. In every sense of the word.
But what we are building here is a new business model. One that I hope will be replicated by others. So that we have COMPANIES fighting for us. Influencers fighting for us. And for us all to work together.
Allison Venditti - Founder of Moms at Work & The Moms at Work Team