President's Corner

Building the Equal Voice Membership Organization

April 15, 2013

Luz Vega-Marquis
By Luz Vega-Marquis
President and CEO

How can the Equal Voice philosophy translate into a membership organization of and for families?

We are in the second year of our five-year plan to build a national membership organization of families by 2016. During 2012, we shared our plan with our networks and grantees, and outlined the necessary steps for operationalizing the plan. Now is our time for action, and a great deal of work is underway.

In 2013, we will continue to ask for input from stakeholders on how to position the Equal Voice membership organization and to pilot projects to best communicate with potential members and test ideas to build membership. We will continue to build upon our experience and prior planning, and are being informed by input from the Equal Voice Advance Team, which worked during the past year to develop strategies for ensuring family leadership and for strengthening Equal Voice networks.

We held the final Equal Voice Advance Team (EVAT) meeting was held in February 2013 in Seattle. During the meeting, we presented the Foundation’s 2013 work plan for the Equal Voice Membership Organization. Our three-point plan included challenging and influencing public perception of families, engaging and empowering families by building, recruiting and retaining a membership base for Equal Voice and to establish Equal Voice as a trusted source. Equal Voice Advance Team members advised us on the process and structure needed to advance the membership organization.

As a result of the meeting, various EVAT members volunteered to serve on three committees: Equal Voice Family Advisory Committee to develop a criteria to select family members to serve on the committee; the Equal Voice website Development Committee to advise, test and pilot the Equal Voice membership website and a Communication Committee to assess how best to advance the membership.

I am pleased to report that the 13 members of the Family Advisory Committee will be seated for two-year terms in July, and we will host their first meeting that month in Seattle. We asked grantees to nominate potential members for the Family Advisory Committee, which will represent every state in which Marguerite Casey Foundation is present. The seating of a national family advisory committee is central to success of Equal Voice and a family-led movement. It also represents how far we have come as a Foundation. Since our inception, we talked about the importance of leading with families. In 2013 our vision and mission becomes a reality as families will help decide the direction of a national organization designed to be the voice of families.

Throughout our planning and outreach in recent years, we heard a consistent theme that technology applications and platforms offer unlimited potential for supporting a membership organization. We have taken this seriously, and we are working with Zero Divide to build a Craigslist-style website that will support membership development and engagement. The Equal Voice Advance Team members reviewed a prototype and gave us ideas for features that would drive traffic to the website, support family-led action, and engage families and allies at a high level. We expect to pilot the website within six months, and we will be prepared to scale it up during 2014.

Since the February meeting, we released the Request for Proposals for the Pilot Grants, and received an overwhelming response. Grantees submitted 54 proposals totaling nearly $11 million in requests. More details are provided in my Interim Director of Grantmaking Report. Several proposals hold great promise for testing approaches for building the Equal Voice membership organization, and we expect that they will complement our own development efforts.

I have great confidence in our individual tactics. The combination of the Family Advisory Committee, the website, the pilot grants, our communications, our newspaper, our support for leaders, our grants, our convenings and our publications taken together present a profound narrative and provide a broad-based footing for family-led action. We assess each of these tactics by their stand-alone strength and by their ability to complement other tactics, which will allow us to leverage the greatest collective impact toward building the Equal Voice membership organization.

I am confident in our tactics, and yet I am keenly aware that our tactics alone will not lead us to success with the Equal Voice membership organization. We need an overarching narrative that will breakthrough with potential members, resonate with families and allies, and forge a new way of thinking about and organizing communities.

We believe that the way to set Equal Voice apart is to build upon its proven strength as a framework for family-led change that is rooted in a shared philosophy and shared values for ensuring an equal voice for all people. We are achieving this understanding among our grantees. When we say Equal Voice, our grantees, particularly those who are part of the Equal Voice network, know what it is. This did not happen overnight. It took years of repeating our message and demonstrating our approach through our grantmaking, newspaper, leadership awards, convenings, and every other effort with consistency and clarity.

Equal Voice is a philosophy. It is embodied in every aspect of our work, and it is the lens by which we assess every opportunity to support a family-led movement for change. How will this translate into a membership organization of and for families? How can it be used to attract, engage and keep families involved in a movement for change?

This is our greatest remaining challenge, and it is the greatest opportunity for Equal Voice: to establish a membership organization — a force for change — that is unlike anything else that exists for families. We seek to go beyond the model of bringing people together around shared benefits or monetary incentives, such as discounted insurance. We are aiming higher by bringing people together around a shared set of ideals as laid-out by our families.

We are ever mindful of the need to promote our message about our belief in families, in family leadership, in the possibility of change, and in the idea of an equal voice for all people. We believe that the Equal Voice philosophy is ultimately what will make the membership organization a reality. We are ready for this next phase, and while we recognize that it will not be without its challenges, based on our years of testing and innovating and communicating, we know what it will take to make Equal Voice happen and we are ready for it.

Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Awards

The Shriver Award nomination and selection process is complete. My thanks to the board committee that selected 14 recipients, ranging in age from 16 to 24 and representing seven of the states in which we make grants. The recipients include:

1. Aurora Paredes, California, 19
2. Carlos Eddie Lopez, Florida, 20
3. Crystal Sahler, Illinois, 23
4. Demarcous Moton, Alabama, 20
5. Jessica lnson, California, 17
6. Julio Contreras, Illinois, 16
7. Kameisha Smith, Mississippi, 18
8. Karina Mendieta, Texas, 22
9. Lisbeth Marin, Illinois, 19
10. Miriam Aguay, Texas, 21
11. Santrechell Julian, Georgia, 21
12. Sean Gregory, California, 24
13. Yahtzeni Gonzalez, Illinois, 19
14. Ethan Hamblin, Kentucky, 22

As part of the selection process, the committee took into consideration the regions and demographics that were not represented among the prior recipients. We conducted more outreach this year than last to ensure broad state representation, and we plan to build upon the outreach to ensure that eventually we support a Youth Warrior in every state where Marguerite Casey Foundation is present.

This year’s Youth Warriors will join us during the August 2013 board meeting to receive the awards and to share their work with us.


  1. What are your thoughts about building a membership organization around a shared philosophy and shared values?
  2. How would you like to use the time with the Shriver Youth Warriors during our August 2013 meeting?

Building the Equal Voice Membership Organization