Image of a chessboard.

Advocacy communications with the 5 Ms

By :

Posted: May 19, 2015

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of supporting a variety of organizations working on affordable housing and homelessness. Unsurprisingly, these people are passionate and committed, but resources often present big roadblocks.

I find that many lack the capacity to hire communications staff or the time to learn basic communications principles that can enhance their advocacy efforts. Fortunately, there’s a great tool that we’ve devised to help people bring some simplicity, and structure to their communications efforts—we call it “The 5Ms."

Any chance I get to share this tool, I’m on board. This time it was at last week’s Conference on Ending Homelessness hosted by the Washington State Low Income Housing Alliance. In its 25th year, the event brings together housing and service providers, funders, housing developers, public agencies, and anyone working to end homelessness in Washington state, including people experiencing homelessness. A record 895 people attended!

For the workshop I was lucky to team up with Erin Murphy and Denise Miller from YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish (and Firesteel) and Joaquin Uy from the Washington State Low Income Housing Alliance. During the conversation, we walked through the 5 Ms, which I’ll share with you below. Think of the 5Ms as a simple framework that includes five elements central to any good communications strategy: 

  1. Mighty Goal and Objectives: What are you trying to achieve?
  2. Market: Whom are you trying to reach? 
  3. Message: What are you trying to say? 
  4. Messenger: Who can help you get out the word? 
  5. Medium: What are the channels you need to use to reach your Market? 

Define all of these with specificity, in the order above, and the core of your strategy is set. Certainly there’s more to it than that, which you can check out in our 5 Ms Toolkit that I shared with attendees.

My co-presenters were impressively crisp on their approach to the work ahead. Take Erin and Denise, who’ve built a digital library of stories and testimonials of people who have experienced homelessness. These moving and authentic interviews clearly send the message that homelessness is not a choice—it can happen to anyone and for a multitude of reasons. Joaquin rallied the audience to use the 5 Ms for statewide advocacy efforts. Check out the Alliance’s website to learn the many ways you can get involved as an advocate for more affordable housing and better services for people experiencing homelessness.

I closed out the day feeling reinvigorated by the presence of so many passionate, committed people. I know that we can tackle these very complex issues—economic and racial justice, affordable housing, poverty, homelessness. There are no easy solutions, but they deserve our investment and attention. One easy step we can all take: treat people experiencing homelessness with the dignity and humanity they deserve.

Image Credit: Tristan Martin | Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0.

Denise Rhiner develops and implements insight-driven communications strategies. She works with Committee to End Homelessness, Building Changes, Raikes Foundation, and others working to make homelessness rare, brief, and one time. She's also a nature geek and foodie with a passion for wild mushrooms. Find her on Twitter @Denise7306.