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Early in 2017, the Trump administration proposed the removal of LGBT elders from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants, a survey that measures how well federally-funded aging programs like Meals on Wheels are reaching older adults.
This effort would effectively erase LGBT elders from critical data collection and decision-making, and there was a limited window of time to comment before the changes were final.
For SAGE—the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults—the threat demanded an urgent response.
Joining the resistance
SAGE had always focused on both advocacy and services, but their advocacy occurred largely behind the scenes; in describing their work, SAGE talked mainly about the services they offer.
Enter Siegelvision—the iconic branding firm, and SAGE’s partner in a new rebranding effort. To Siegelvision, this moment was the perfect opportunity to showcase SAGE’s new look and messaging: the threatened erasure created the perfect storm of circumstances for SAGE to both lead a resistance movement, and redefine the organization in the process.
“We Refuse to Be Invisible,” a statement that resonated early on, became both the rallying cry for this effort and the activist voice SAGE had been looking for.
Creating a movement
SAGE’s task was to fill the commenting period with as many voices as possible demanding that the question on sexual orientation be added back to the survey. Siegelvision dove into thinking about how best to galvanize and activate allies. A high-profile Midtown billboard was floated. But would the right people see it? Would it lead to action? This limited window of opportunity was too critical to leave those questions to chance.
A call with the team at Craft & Commerce—an outcomes-focused digital agency specializing in cause campaigns—yielded a different option: Bring “We Refuse To Be Invisible” to life in the form of short, inspiring social media content, and use paid social to rapidly test, optimize, and scale an online petition call-to-action.
The #WeRefuseToBeInvisible campaign was born.
The effects were immediate. Within days the goal for petition signatures had been reached and then surpassed. By the end of the commenting period, 10,000 allies had signed the petition, and, for greater impact, these digital petitions were printed and delivered to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The social media campaign dovetailed with SAGE’s offline advocacy—including op-eds, lobbying, letter-writing parties, partner mobilization, and an impactful presence at Pride marches across the country. This widespread awareness and a critical mass of action was achieved within a relatively scrappy budget, and orchestrated by an organization whose advocacy had heretofore flown under the radar.
Outcome: An unlikely victory
The public outcry of the #WeRefuseToBeInvisible campaign was swift and fervent, and pushed the Trump administration to reverse course. The question on sexual orientation would remain.
For SAGE, the fight isn’t remotely over. LGBT elders are still fighting to be seen and better understood in the context of aging, and new threats to LGBT rights continue to arise. But thanks to a clarified brand voice and a well-run resistance campaign, there now exists a broader, more aware coalition to activate when the next challenge comes along, and a road-tested set of tactics to deploy for success.
- Define and streamline the message.
- Run a simple campaign (KISS).
- Marry great creative with paid digital media for big impact.
- Find your most engaged supporters through persona building and testing.
- Optimize for results (ads and landing pages).
- Rally support of leadership and board.
- Be nimble to capitalize on the moment (right time, right place = perfect storm).
- Integrate digital with offline (lobbying and in real life).