[see also Engaging Constituents in Advocacy]
A key component of any advocacy strategy is finding personal stories that demonstrate the importance of the change you seek. Personal stories:
- lend credibility to a problem or solution
- put a human face on a problem or solution
- help others identify with a problem or solution
- engage a reader’s heart, stir compassion
- move people to action to solve the problem or contribute to a solution
In post-permanency support program advocacy, the stories should demonstrate how access to effective support programs contributes to keeping children and youth safe and stable in their adoptive families. For example, if the child or youth has an attachment disorder, the story might explore how with the help of a competent attachment therapist the family has been able to help the child better bond with the family, leading toward a brighter future. Or, the story might discuss how the family was able to stay committed and help the child function better in school, at home, or in the community with the support and encouragement of other experienced parent mentors. Be careful to connect the program components to successful outcomes and a reduction in high-cost interventions and disruptions.
Below we describe how to gather personal stories that can help make the strongest advocacy points. Although this is written primarily to help you gather and write others’ stories, you can also use it guide you to write and share your own story too.
Before you start interviewing people or gathering personal stories to help you with your advocacy efforts, you need to first answer the what, when, where, why, how and who questions regarding your advocacy work. You should first be able to answer these questions and explain your mission to prospective speakers.
- What is your specific goal? What do you hope to accomplish by delivering your message?
- What type of story will best illustrate the importance of your goal?
- Who are the best people to tell their personal stories?
- Build trust—explain your goals; find common ground; reassure the person that they will have the opportunity review the story before you do anything with it
- Ask permission to record interview, but also take notes
- Listen and allow speakers to talk; ask questions but give plenty of time for the person to answer before jumping in with the next story
- Plan questions in advance, but be prepared to think of new ones as the story unfolds
- Don’t push if a person hesitates to reveal a part of the story or becomes emotional; take the time to build the relationship and you may learn more later
- Do follow-up interviews after you have written up a draft to get more information or answer questions
- Explain to the person what you know you don’t want them to publicly share and why. Sometimes there are parts of a person’s story that are too personal or too complicated; you want to both protect the parent or youth and keep your audience focused on your prime advocacy message.
Write the Story
- Discuss with individual how you will need to shape their story to fit your advocacy goals
- Keep the story as brief as possible, definitely under one page
- Quote the person as much as possible; if necessary go back and ask very specific questions that can elicit a quote that is true and powerful
- Include details that will help the audience form pictures in their minds
- Have team members review and edit the story to ensure that it achieves your goals
Be Cautious and Respectful
- Never use a story or parts of a story without permission
- Only tell the parts of the story that you need the reader to know; be very protective of the individual and don’t share anything they might later regret (even if they are willing to share it now)
- Never change a person’s story; if the story doesn’t fit then seek another one