Budget advocacy 101: Messaging to the barriers

One of our goals with "Little Citizens, Big Issues" is to showcase diverse voices and viewpoints from the community on issues affecting young children in the District. This post is by Lauren Hogan, director of public policy at the National Black Child Development Institute.  

Recently I attended a Children’s Budget Summit, sponsored by First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. If you’re like me, a typical conference experience means that you go, you enjoy, you learn, you get free food and then you come back to work and forget all about it. But I’ve been mulling over this budget summit since I walked out the door.

Beyond delving into spreadsheets and data books, the goal was to share research and message strategies on how we can collectively “move the dial for kids.” While the focus was on the federal budget, the presentations and discussions were equally relevant for state and local policy.    

Essentially, the presenters argued that children’s group have not, by and large, done a great job of figuring out how to get legislators to make kids and families the priority--not just in speeches, but in the budget, where it really counts. This is not news. What was interesting was that the presenters placed the blame for this lack of funding squarely on our shoulders: The problem is that we’re using the wrong messages and the wrong strategies (granted, the presenters were messaging and strategy firms).  

Still, Kristen Grimm, president of Spitfire Strategies, argued compellingly that the issue isn’t a lack of information. People do think that kids are important, and they do understand why investing in them matters. Yet they don’t act upon that understanding (the obvious comparison is weight loss, but pick anything in which you have a gap between your knowledge and actions). 

The problem is that we advocates continue to message with more information, figuring that people must not truly understand how dire the situation is--or they would certainly be compelled to do something about it. Right? Wrong.

According to Ms. Grimm, we need to “message to the barriers.”  What is stopping people from investing more in kids, if they know that is the right thing to do?  How do we overcome these barriers--and is there any message powerful enough to save kids and families in a budget environment like the one we’re facing now?  If so, what do you think it is?  What resonates the most with you?    

(If you’re interested, you can get more information on Spitfire Strategies’ messaging recommendations by reading “Discovering the Activation Point: Smart Strategies to Make People Act,” which you can download for free at http://www.activationpoint.org/