BoardSource is thrilled to announce the winner of our 2019 Stand for Your Mission Award: Children’s Advocacy Centers of Tennessee. It will receive $5,000 to support its advocacy work. Below is a short Q&A with the organization’s board chair, Joyce Prusak, on some of the thinking that went into the organization’s advocacy strategy. You can also read about the organization's inspiring success story — as well as those from the other nine finalists — on the Stand for Your Mission website.
What did your organization do in terms of advocacy prior to its shift in philosophy, and what was it that drove you to make a shift?
Years ago, Children’s Advocacy Centers of Tennessee had been much more active on the advocacy front. As a membership organization, we knew the impact that children’s advocacy centers (CACs) across the state could have. Yet, we had lost a lot of what had been accomplished. So, in many ways, it was like having to start over to raise the profile of the organization, educate legislators on the work of individual CACs across the state, and accurately demonstrate the impact that CACs were having on children, families, and communities in Tennessee. The membership really drove the shift as many of the directors of the CACs asked for more advocacy efforts on the statewide level through annual membership surveys and when creating the agency’s strategic plan.
Was there any pushback or reluctance from the board? And if so, how did you deal with that?
Fortunately, the board, as well as the member CACs, saw value in having an organized legislative advocacy agenda. The biggest challenge was making sure that there was funding available to continue working with a lobbyist to ensure that we were able to continue with the momentum that was building behind the CAC movement.
How did your organization come to the conclusion it needed to bring in a lobbyist? How did this help?
Due to restrictions on staff time and grant restrictions, the board recognized that legislative advocacy would have to be prioritized, but independently from the staff. The board approved a small amount of funds to be used for a lobbyist and dedicated some of its own resources through a legislative committee to help with legislative issues on the state level specifically. The lobbyist was able to help the organization be better recognized by legislators through individual meetings and outreach activities. She was also able to help the organization focus its efforts in order to have the most impact. Having a formal legislative agenda helped not only the board, but also the membership as they met with legislators in their districts.
You also created a formal advocacy committee as part of this push. Can you talk about the decision to do so and explain its role in your success?
In the past, there had been a legislative committee, but it was not very active. The strategic plan that the organization created based on input from member centers really helped drive the need for reestablishing this committee. This committee works closely with the lobbyist to help create the legislative agenda for the year. This agenda is based on feedback from CACTN members and reflects the greatest legislative needs at the time. Although funding is always a priority, monitoring and updating legislation specific to children’s advocacy centers is also critical.
In just two years, you increased your profile with state legislators and received $450,000 in state funding. Were you surprised by how quickly you began seeing results? Are there lessons learned you can share around this success?
While we were not unknown by legislators, there was often confusion between us and other organizations. There was also a lot of turnover amongst legislators in recent years. So, having a clear legislative agenda and a lobbyist who could make sure that legislators were aware of the work of CACs across the state really helped clarify the role that CACs play in communities. Just as with any movement, we were reminded how important it is to build and strengthen relationships with legislators and statewide partners.
What has your organization been up to since applying for the award? Any more advocacy success stories to share?
During the last legislative session, CACTN was able to work with legislators to update some language specific to CACs in Tennessee. The lobbyist was also able to get a fine attached to a specific crime allocated to CACs. Currently, CACTN is working on its legislative agenda for January 2020 when the legislative session begins again in Tennessee. We are looking forward to having an even more active year by working with some strong supporters of CACs in the Tennessee House and Senate.