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Making the Most of Our Activism: An Interview with Animal Impact Author Caryn Ginsberg

Making the Most of Our Activism: An Interview with Animal Impact Author Caryn Ginsberg

Think of the big-name organizations in the animal protection movement — HSUS, ASPCA, Farm Sanctuary, RedRover — and you’ll find Caryn Ginsberg’s fingerprints all over their strategies and campaigns. Caryn has spent more than a decade helping animal protection advocates utilize strategy and marketing approaches to get better results, and her new book, Animal Impact: Secrets Proven to Achieve Results and Move the World, is designed to help both beginning and experienced activists create more effective change for animals. Caryn’s book has been endorsed by many well-known advocates, including Wayne Pacelle, Gene Baur, and Bruce Friedrich, and Peter Singer called it, “the practical handbook every activist should read.”

In addition to her expertise merging business skills with activism, Caryn has also served on boards of directors and advisory boards, including for the Institute for Humane Education and the Humane Research Council, and has taught social marketing, marketing, and strategic management courses for Johns Hopkins University and Humane Society University. I talked with Caryn about her book and how it can help transform activism.

MR: Why did you write Animal Impact?

CG: Like many advocates, I got my start by volunteering for outreach tables, leafleting, and demonstrations. It became clear to me that some of these activities were more productive than others.

Hard-working, committed activists deserve to get results that match their efforts. That’s why it pains me when I see interactions, outreach, and campaigns that aren’t as effective as they could be. Our goal must be to be “passionately productive.”

MR: What’s unique about your book amongst the other books about animal protection or general advocacy?

CG: There are many excellent books about advocacy in general and animal protection specifically. I reviewed a number of books before writing Animal Impact precisely to define what would make it different:

  • It  introduces, explains, and illustrates a seven-step process to create change, so that readers get an approach they can remember more easily and apply to get better results.
  • The success stories and lessons learned from leading advocates around the world make the book enjoyable as well as instructive.
  • The book includes thought exercises and questions, so you experience the material. You can begin to put the information to work before you even finish reading.
  • There’s a free companion journal pdf that repeats the key points and provides space to answer questions and take notes, letting you create a personalized executive summary.

MR: Your book looks to business practices, including marketing strategies, as a core part of effective advocacy. Why is that important?

CG: You’d probably agree that businesses are good at getting people to do things, whether or not you support all the actions they motivate. Advocates can use the same approaches – ethically and without big budgets – to get people to take different actions. The field of social marketing, applying business marketing principles to motivate people to act in ways that benefit society, began in 1971. The public health, environmental, and animal protection fields, as well as others, have used social marketing successfully to advance change.

MR: In your book, you talk about the ACHIEVEchange system as a guide for effective activism. Tell us a little about it.

CG: The ACHIEVEchange system gives advocates a way to remember seven key steps to effective advocacy. Each letter in the word “ACHIEVE” stands for a phrase that represents a key step in the process of effective advocacy. For example, “C” is for “Create benefits and cut barriers.” People change when they believe it is in their interest to do so. As advocates, we have to help them tip the scale, so to speak, where they see more benefits than barriers to taking the animal-friendly action. Saving animals by going vegan may be an appealing benefit, but if the food doesn’t seem delicious, convenient, nutritious, and affordable, there are too many barriers. That’s why giving people the tools and support they need to make veganism work for them is so important.

MR: Give us an example of “top-notch” advocacy.

CG: Although some people experience an epiphany and become vegans overnight, most people make dietary changes over time. They move from awareness to interest to decision to action and maintenance.

As people move closer to taking action, they focus more on potential barriers and less on benefits. That’s where they need help to feel confident and comfortable with plant-based eating. Typical outreach that involves a single conversation or even sharing a veg starter kit may fall short.

Vegan mentoring programs, such as from the Animal Rights Coalition in Minnesota, address this problem by providing ongoing assistance. The veg-inclined can choose a mentor who will answer their questions, invite them to veg events, and just be a veg friend. One vegan mentee even won ARC’s Vegan Iron Chef competition! About four to six weeks into the relationship, the mentee provides an evaluation to ensure the relationship is productive.

Although ARC’s program is small to start, I believe this type of program, whether delivered in-person or online, is an exciting model that helps people move from awareness to action for veg eating.

MR: What are some of the most common mistakes activists make?

CG: The “I” in the ACHIEVEchange system stands for “I am not my target audience.” Long-term vegans forget that while shopping, cooking, and eating out may be easy for us, that wasn’t always so. We may not be sympathetic or helpful enough to people who express concerns. Who hasn’t been frustrated with the question, “Where do you get your protein?” While we’ve heard it what feels like a million times, for the person asking, it’s probably the first time. S/he has seen meat ads and the food pyramid for years, without the benefit of the info veg*ans have discovered.

 So we need to see it as an opportunity to be helpful, maybe by sharing some info and directing them to a good web page such as this one from PCRM or this one from the Vegetarian Resource Group.

Another common mistake is the one-size-fits-all approach where we try to speak to everyone with the same message. Some people think that people should go veg only for animal reasons. But different messages work better with different audiences. Compassion Over Killing (COK) is highly effective with young people by pointing out the hidden truth of animal suffering in industrial farming. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) uses a health appeal that resonates with many middle-aged and older people.
The good news for individual advocates is that you can tailor your message by letting people talk about what’s important for them. For example, rather than immediately launching into our “why vegan” lecture (which almost all of us have done), we can ask a question, such as, “what do you know about veganism and what do you find appealing about it.”

MR: What’s the biggest challenge in motivating people to change their behavior?

CG: I mentioned that people move from awareness to interest to decision to action and maintenance. One challenge that activists face is engaging people in a way that move them toward – rather than away from – the action we’d like them to take. If we guilt or shame people, or demand drastic change immediately, we drive them away rather than showing them how veg*ism can be fun, easy, and popular.

MR: What do you think it’s most important for beginning activists to know? Where should they start? What should they consider when deciding how best to spend their time and resources?

CG: My hope for beginning activists would be that they would find a role where they enjoy what they’re doing, and they’re getting meaningful results from their investment of time and energy. While the path to that point may vary, I’d encourage new activists to learn about a variety of groups. See what kind of campaigns or programs they run and what outcomes they’re achieving. Volunteer in a variety of capacities or apply for an internship. As you go, keep evaluating, “Is this the way I want to contribute? Is my work creating change?”

MR: What keeps you motivated and positive in working toward a compassionate, just world for all?

CG: There are so many wonderful people working to create positive change in the world. Imagine how much we can accomplish if every one of them has the very best ideas, methods, and tools to get results. The more activists learn the approaches in Animal Impact, the faster we will dramatically reduce animal suffering and killing.

Find out more about Caryn’s new book, Animal Impact, here.

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