A letter from Jenni Hargrove, Nonprofit Jenni:
Good morning nonprofit leaders,
Between the mass shootings and Mississippi ICE raids, this has been a heartbreaking week for me. If you work in Texas, Ohio, or Mississippi, I’m sure you’re already looking at how you can personally support the families impacted by these tragedies. But today I want to urge you to take action professionally to help end child separation and reunite children with their parents. If your nonprofit has never engaged in advocacy before, I know this can be scary to think about, so I want to help walk you through it.
What types of nonprofits should advocate against child separation?
Depending on your organization’s mission, you may be wondering if it’s even appropriate for your organization to get involved in this issue.
If your nonprofit organization raises awareness about and/or directly serves people impacted by trauma, children, families, immigrants and refugees, and/or vulnerable populations, you should advocate against child separation.
Here are some examples of organizations which should take action against child separation:
Human rights organizations
Foster care and adoption agencies
Organizations offering parenting classes
Organizations providing services to immigrants, migrants, and refugees
Agencies working to empower adults to become self sufficient
Any organizations offering complementary services to the above organizations
How can nonprofits legally advocate against child separation without violating restrictions on political campaign activity?
Many nonprofit professionals are afraid of jeopardizing their 501(c)3 status by getting involved in political campaign activities. Fortunately, advocating against child separation (or any other specific human rights issues) do not violate restrictions against political campaign activity because you do not need to endorse or oppose a specific candidate or political party.
Here are some tips for advocating against child separation:
Do not directly or indirectly endorse or oppose a specific candidate or political party. For example, don’t say something like, “Trump supporters should think about the Mississippi raids before deciding whether to keep him in office for another four years.”
Focus your messaging on a specific call to action that directly benefits the children and families. For example, “Urge your senator to act against ICE raids,” “Sign this petition,” and “Volunteer as a translator to help reunite families” are all good calls to action.
If you do want to mention specific candidates, elected officials, or political parties, make sure you are focusing only on how these individuals should support children and families—not your opinion on whether these individuals should or should not remain in office.
For more general information on how to avoid restricted activities, check out this course from the IRS (it’s pretty short—the PDF version is 7 pages) about protecting your 501(c)3 status in the midst of political activity.
How can you advocate against child separation without losing donor support?
I really do empathize with this question, especially if you're worried about potentially losing a major donor or grantor. But here's the thing.
Your nonprofit has a mission that is more important than any single funder.
If your nonprofit is not willing to stand up against something that is so objectively harmful to not only these kids, but also society in general, should your nonprofit even exist? Are you even fulfilling the mission you're supposed to be serving?
If you need help explaining how child separation is objectively bad for children and for our country, I encourage you to check out some of these resources:
Excepts from many studies which the American Bar Association recommends attorneys use to explain the impact of toxic stress and trauma on a child who is separated from their family
Information about how much it costs to detain children who have been separated from parents
Information about how immigrants impact communities in areas like crime and the economy
If you feel uncomfortable talking about this issue because you think it will be divisive, I would encourage you to keep going back to these objective facts about how this is the right thing to do for children and for America.
What are some practical ways nonprofit organizations can advocate against child separation?
There are a lot of different things that you can do to advocate for the end of child separation and reuniting families. Here are just a few suggestions:
Post on social media — I recommend posting a series of posts throughout the day that help first to educate about why this issue is relevant to your specific mission statement, and then to recommend specific actions your followers can take to support these kids and families. Also, be ready for comments on these posts which may not necessarily be phrased politely. If somebody does leave a negative comment, don't be too quick to delete it. If the comment doesn't include hate speech or swear words, I would really encourage you to use this as an opportunity to educate “lurkers” who may not be courageous enough to comment, but who share similar sentiments because they don’t know much about the issue.
Send an e-newsletter to your supporters — Keep it concise with only up to three main ideas, and links to more information if people want to do further reading. Include very clear calls to action, and make it as easy as possible for people to respond. For example, send the phone number for your senators’ offices with a sample phone script that is no longer than five sentences.
Issue an official statement — Post this on your blog and distribute it to the media. These public statements can gain a lot of traction, especially at the local level. In the statement, do your best to show how trauma directly relates to your local community, and use a good balance of statistics and storytelling to help readers feel like they can personally identify with the impacted families.
Request a meeting with your elected officials — As a nonprofit organization, you have the potential to sway public opinion, and your elected officials know that so they are likely to take the meeting. Many elected officials simply aren't educated on this issue, coming from very privileged backgrounds where they may have never personally known anyone who's been impacted by trauma. You could be their first window into this important issue.
Host a prayer meeting — If you work for a faith based organization, set an example by showing that members of faith communities believe all children are children worthy of love and a healthy life. Host an impromptu event to pray for these children, their families, and the turmoil in their countries which likely led the families here in the first place.
Where can nonprofits which are new to advocacy find more advice?
Most of the time with my blog posts, I disable comments because I don't have a ton of time to moderate what gets posted here. But on this blog post, I'm going to leave the comments open because I would love for you to include more ideas for how nonprofits can advocate against child separation, plus any resources you would recommend for people who are new to advocacy. Here are some podcast episodes I have published which cover relevant topics:
As always, if you need some support with your marketing, PR, and outreach efforts, I'm open for free initial consultation phone calls for prospective clients and I encourage you to set one up with me if you want to continue to talk about this issue.
Much love and hope,
(P.S. I am not an attorney. This letter shouldn’t be taken as legal advice. If you need a knowledgable nonprofit attorney, I recommend Schaffer Law Firm.)