LightBox Collaborative is delighted to continue our partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation to strengthen the work of their grantees, who are making the Crescent City and its neighboring parishes better for all. We’re pleased to share smart lessons from a few of the organizations we’ve met through our work in New Orleans — and hope you learn as much from them as we have!

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center scored a big win for Louisiana women when the Violence covs-1Against Women Act became law last August. This historic bill was passed through collaboration among housing advocates, domestic violence service providers, and housing providers who believed that survivors should never have to choose between safety from abuse and a safe place to live. Because of this new law:

  • Survivors can no longer be evicted because of the violence of their abuser.
  • Survivors can no longer be denied housing solely on the basis of past abuse.
  • Survivors can now terminate leases early and move if they need to.

But it wasn’t an easy win. The coalition had worked together to try to pass the very same law previously, but to no avail. “We took stock and realized that our context demanded we change our communications strategy,” says Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. “Our communications had been based in numbers and facts about the problem. But this time around, we led with values, and making the personal connection that violence could affect all women in Louisiana — our mothers, sisters, daughters.”

Communications about the legislation focused on storytelling, like this news article featuring a nursing student and her young son who were evicted after being attacked in their home, because of the apartment complex’s “zero tolerance” policy on domestic violence. Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and their partners also shared stories of women who lost their housing after the abuser was arrested and sent to jail, and one woman who returned home from the hospital after being beaten by her ex-boyfriend only to find an eviction notice on the door.

By highlighting the women harmed by domestic violence evictions and the very real damage done to their families, Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and their partners helped legislators and their constituents come to understand the problem in a much deeper way. The experience of the coalition is consistent with a growing body of research that suggests that stories are among the most powerful communications tools available to nonprofit leaders and advocates. Stories Worth Telling, published by the Meyer Foundation, offers a comprehensive set of research and best practices designed to build storytelling skill among small nonprofits. Storytelling as Best Practice, a guidebook by Andy Goodman, offers clear examples and concise advice on how to integrate storytelling into your cause-driven work.

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center used storytelling for the win. The biggest lesson they can share with other advocates? “You’ve got find a way to make people to care about your issue,” says Hill. “It’s not enough for people to know intellectually, they’ve got to feel it in their gut or their heart.”

Photo by Cheryl Gerber of Gambit Weekly

hollyHolly Minch is the Founding Partner of LightBox Collaborative, and Greater New Orleans Foundation has engaged her to support advocacy grantees with communications training and coaching toward smart strategies for community change.