Blog | Module 4: Doing advocacy part 1: public speaking, policy and fundraising

Blog | Module 4: Doing advocacy part 1: public speaking, policy and fundraising

Written by:
Phatsaline Vonvsaly. Co-founder of
Gamlangchai and speaking out about transforming mental health systems in Laos.
Tricia Tran. Medical student and founder of a national youth advisory group for
Naro. Filipino story weaver from
KERI: Caring for Activists.

Revolution begins with words

Module four focused on the different ways we can use words and stories for societal change, such as through public speaking and fundraising. It explored practical questions for advocates such as: how can I talk about my advocacy more clearly and powerfully? How can I capture people’s attention and change the narrative about mental health in my community? How can I gain support, such as resources, in order to make lasting change?

We learned from Shawntel Nieto and Serene Singh that the most important component of every public speaking event is for "people to resonate with you". We have to always keep in mind the "purpose" of our pitch: what do we hope to achieve by the end of the pitch? Is the goal to raise awareness? To obtain funding? Or to ask for support? The speech's content needs to be "contextualised, individualised, and humanised," according to Serene. A persuasive speech will encourage supporters to come back to the cause and provoke "change" instead of "shame". Through our words, we have to make the pitch relevant to the audience by drawing a picture of how the world would be better with their support and contribution.

Serene also shared wonderful tools from other industries to use in pitching. Interestingly, she shared a media studies film storyboard, encouraging us to consider elements such as conflict and characterisation to better flesh out our presentations.

We also found Shawntel and Serene’s boldness in pitching inspiring. Serene advocated for us to pitch continuously to as many people as possible to fine tune the elements of our pitch. In her words: “for every second of your pitch, you need at least a minute of practice”.

Shifting gears to discuss the “why” and “how” of fundraising now, sustainability of our mental health projects, after all, is anchored on strategic fundraising. The guest presenters for this session, Amornthep Sachamuneewongse (Sanju) and Paula Yarrow, truly nailed the practical steps for us to create lasting and resilient impact. Throughout this session, when Paula was describing to us the various fundraising models and their advantages and disadvantages, we had a lot of "a ha!" moments. The subject of raising funds is one we've been pondering for a while, but the ideas from our speakers truly helped us understand how we can use it for our initiatives.

Learning how to develop strategies for project activities and writing financial plans are important skills to have, regardless of the fundraising strategies we choose. It’s important to be truthful and transparent about how much we spend on the project, and ensure it truly benefits our target beneficiaries and adheres to the principles of our organisation. Fundraising can be a difficult process, Sanju said: "There will be one person in the room who will listen and be interested in what you do if we excellently deliver our mission, the support and the money will follow”.

In this landscape of public speaking and fundraising, we also found ourselves reflecting on what it means to tell lived stories of oppression to people in power, and what it means to move in systems wherein advocates would have to compete with each other to tell a more compelling story. In our experience, it’s challenging for people who cannot speak “good” English, who are disadvantaged socioeconomically, who live with social or performance anxiety, or come from marginalised communities to be more “captivating” or “effective” than advocates who come from more privileged positions (for example, those who are well educated, able-bodied or have more socioeconomic advantage).

In the same way that we are advocating for belongingness and empowerment, we considered: how can we also change the systemic barriers in the advocacy landscape? How can we listen to each other’s pitches without having to evaluate delivery or even feel insecure about our own?

As grassroots First Nations right activist living with bipolar disorder in Mindanao stated: “Otherwise, even mental health advocacy replicates the attention economy, wherein people would be told, ‘hey, you telling me people have anxiety isn’t enough, we need more. Capture my attention’.”

When we talk about having a mental health revolution, we feel that it’s not about who gets the most say, or who gets the last, but rather, how can everyone be heard? This module provided a starting point for people who also hold a similar desire to be listened to. Here’s the most useful advice we gained:

  • Explore your own story and see how it connects to the bigger stories around you. Clarifying these helps you see what it is you’re fighting for, and enables you to prepare and share a more powerful speech or fundraising concept.
  • Perfect your pitch over and over again! Recognising your feelings of anxiety, nervousness or stress in front of the public, practice will give you the assurance you need to speak confidently in any circumstance.