Imagine if social service workers were allowed to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram their experiences (with permission) through the process of getting someone into housing. The systems level approach to social service work that is so hard to communicate to the broader public would be boiled down to narratives and visuals of people’s hardships and successes. It could change public opinion.
It makes more sense to Tweet 100 pictures of people getting an apartment with a key in hand over the course of six months than trying to explain to the public in one shot why $1 million dollars will house 100 people they don’t have any connection with.
There is a generational and technology gap between the leaders and the workers of many nonprofits on the poverty front. Many nonprofits and government institutions are more concerned with controlling a specific message than trusting their workers, or the people they serve to use social media and letting the narratives and visuals speak for themselves.
By not allowing people to share their experiences day-in and day-out, nonprofits working on the poverty front are falling woefully behind. It’s a disservice not only to the people involved in doing the work, but also to the broader public. Thousands of people would instantly feel more connected to helping fight homelessness and to the work non-profits do by understanding the experiences their peers have on the streets.
At the end of the day, what the general public sees is not the stories of poor people. They see the stories of poor people filtered through through the lens of public relations departments and press releases that the media often times reprints verbatim. Having a message is great, but if people aren’t accessing that message and are turned off by the statues quo, what good is it?
Our movement doesn’t have the money to buy the message, and it’s illegal for nonprofits to buy politicians. Open-source technology and social media are tools of social change. Being creative and using these platforms can help level the playing field, while offering people an organic way to engage.
I cringe when some of the smartest minds in our city tell me they can’t access their organization’s social media, or can’t blog about a successful experience on the streets because of their organizational policies. It’s time for non-profits to turn the page and give their workers and people they serve more of a voice in a larger community vision to combat poverty. It’s time for nonprofits on the poverty front to join the 21st century. If you listen closely, there’s a story to be told.