The power of giving voice

Joanna SebelienBy Joanna Sebelien, chief resource officer for Harvesters—The Community Food Network

Every nonprofit has an advocacy program. Surprised? It might be called “educating the public” or “raising awareness,” but it is advocacy. At its core, advocacy is about engaging people in an issue or cause. It is what all nonprofits do every day.

Harvesters has always had a commitment to engage the community in our issue of hunger. It is incorporated into our strategic plan approved by our board of directors. We ask people to get involved. “Give Food, Give Time and Give Money,” but also to “Give Voice” to the issue of hunger.

More is needed. Harvesters is growing, but not as quickly as the problem of hunger. We face the real prospect of decreasing government support for food assistance, and the nonprofit safety net community simply cannot make up those cuts.

HarvestersAt Harvesters, we sought advocacy technical assistance to help us engage more people, deepen the connection of those already involved, more fully integrate advocacy throughout Harvesters and strengthen the power of our collective voices.

With guidance and support provided through the Advocacy Capacity Initiative of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, the REACH Foundation and the excellent support of advisor Melinda Lewis, we looked at our entire organization to determine where the opportunities were for the biggest impact.

We engaged our staff in discussions about the value of their work and the importance of their interactions in encouraging people to take the next step.

We helped staff focus on “giving voice” as the secondary ask in their work with stakeholders: When you’re holding your food drive, can you help us get the message out about how many people are hungry in the community? When you volunteer, can you share your experience on social media? As a donor, can you take the next step and contact your local elected official and explain the importance of the public/private partnership in feeding the hungry?

While some staff regularly write and talk about hunger, did our drivers or our business office staff? Our staff members are our best advocates, and they were underused!

We made sure that all staff were equipped with messages and had the confidence to engage in those conversations.

Our staff who work with volunteers identified and implemented service learning and “next step” ideas to enhance the volunteer experience and voice.

We worked with our network partner agencies — the hundreds of food pantries, kitchens and shelters — on the front lines of emergency feeding. We invited partner agencies from select counties to come together for in-depth advocacy training, learn more about the power they have to influence the conversation and the additional strength they have working together as a network.

We still have much work to do, but thanks to the Advocacy Capacity Initiative, we are strengthening our core functions and building out our program in ways that will benefit the health of our community for years to come.



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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at



About Bridget's Blog

Bridget McCandless

Bridget McCandless, MD, MBA, FACP, HCF President/CEO

Bridget McCandless is the President/CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and is a Board Certified Internal Medicine Specialist with an interest in chronic disease management and poverty medicine. She shares her thoughts and perspectives on health and policy issues that impact the health of the community as a whole.

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