campaign toolkits

Water Access in Schools

Throughout this toolkit, you’ll find information and resources that can help you advocate for school districts and schools to establish and implement policies that ensure kids have access to water at no cost throughout the school day as well as before and after school activities.


Water is a basic human need—something kids cannot live without. Because children spend so much time at school, having safe and appealing water available to them is critical for them to live healthier lives. 

All kids–in every school in the United States–should have access to water at no charge in school. 

When children don’t have enough water to drink, their health and their cognitive performance, particularly short-term memory, may suffer. And, when water is not available, children tend to consume more sugary drinks, which are linked to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Throughout this toolkit, you’ll find information and resources that can help you advocate for school districts and schools to establish and implement policies that ensure kids have access to water at no cost throughout the school day as well as before and after school activities. Voices for Healthy Kids is committed to ensuring that all children get the water they need to thrive in school and in life. 

About the Issue

Because water is a basic human need that kids cannot live without, there’s no doubt that all kids in all U.S. schools should have access to water at no cost. Schools should make water widely available via water dispensers, water bottle filling stations or water fountains throughout the day and at mealtimes. 

But the reality is that water that is both safe and appealing is not readily available at many U.S. schools. A nationally representative survey published in 2015 showed that more than half of school-aged children were inadequately hydrated. Water access in schools and consumption by students can vary by gender, race, and ethnicity of students, socioeconomic status of students’ families and geographic region. For example, Black children are less likely to drink enough water compared to white children; and boys are less likely to drink enough water compared to girls. 

This matters because water plays an important role in maintaining a child’s overall health. Water helps children’s muscles, joints and tissues. Water keeps kids’ growing bodies hydrated. 

When water is not available, children tend to have more sugary drinks, like sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks with added sugar, energy drinks and soda—all of which contain empty calories and are linked to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Drinking water instead of sugary drinks can also reduce children’s risk of dental cavities. 

Drinking water while at school helps kids learn better. According to a national survey, healthy, active children perform better academically. Drinking water can improve children’s fine motor skills and visual attention, which helps with learning activities such as reading.

Build a Campaign

No matter what issue your campaign is focused on or which organization leads it, there are three key phases to each campaign: recruitengage, and mobilize. Throughout this toolkit and the sections within Build a Campaign, you will find guides to recruiting and activating an advocate base, spreading the word online, alerting local media, and communicating with state and local public officials to encourage inclusive policies that support health and improve the economy in your communities.

Make sure you have designated time for planning, launching, and executing your campaign, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments along the way as you gain more information about your advocates and community leaders.


Need Help with Resources? Voices for Healthy Kids is available to help customize our creative resources as needed. If you are a grantee, please submit a TA request. If you are not a funded grantee, send an email to for assistance.

Success Stories

These are the stories of those working to engage, organize, and mobilize communities to help make each day healthier for all children.


This first phase of the campaign is where you lay the groundwork that will ensure your success.

Topics in this conversation

Understanding Recruitment

To start, think about these questions:

  • Who are likely to be your strongest allies?
  • Who can be your spokespeople? Who has the greatest credibility on this issue? To whom will decision makers listen?
  • What organizations are likely to partner with you? What do they bring to the table?
  • Who are likely to be your opponents? Who are their regular opponents?
  • Where do members of various ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, disability, and racial groups in the community regularly congregate?
  • What are the organizations in your community that represent different racial and ethnic communities? How can you build authentic bridges to those groups to engage them in your campaign?
  • What are the organizations that work with youth with disabilities? How can you build authentic bridges to those groups to engage them in your campaign?
  • Are there any alliances with community planners or developers, doctors, dietitians, nurses, researchers, educators, or city or county health department officials that could be explored?
  • Who do you want to be your “everyday advocates,” the large group of people who speak out about the issues at hand?
  • Do these “everyday advocates” represent the diversity of the communities most affected by the need for policy change?
  • Where can you gather stories to share about your issue and how it affects your community?
  • Remember to consider reaching out to both organizations and individuals who might be interested in supporting your campaign. Reach out to these potential advocates via all channels available to you: social media, existing member databases, personal emails, blogs, paid advertisements, community outreach, tabling at street fairs and festivals, public announcements at places of worship, etc.

Be sure to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate materials; the wider you can cast your net, the more likely you are to recruit a diverse audience that cares about the changes you want to make. Stretch beyond your comfort zone.

Once you determine who is on your side, start thinking about how to garner support from public officials and other important leaders. In many cases, you will want to share your message with supporters and ask them to send a letter to key government officials so these leaders recognize the need for access to safe and appealing drinking water throughout the school day. Keep in mind that it is not lobbying to ask people to contact legislators to raise awareness about a general policy issue or to influence an administrative action. But if your communication refers to legislation or legislative proposals and asks people to contact legislators, then it is lobbying. You can do this outreach through numerous channels:

  • Letters to legislators or community leaders
  • Phone calls to legislators or to members of the community during a recruitment push
  • Social media posts and shares
  • Blogs
  • Public service announcements
  • Letters to the editor
  • Op-eds

Finally, before you execute any of the tactics in this toolkit, make sure you establish your metrics of success. Determine how you will measure the effectiveness of your campaign’s communications no matter what they may be. Some examples of things to measure include:

  • Media impressions (both initial and follow up)
  • Likes and retweets
  • Comments
  • Open and click-through rates on emails
  • Volunteers recruited
  • Funds raised

Recruitment Basics

Deploying a campaign isn’t just about mobilizing your supporters to act in support of your cause. A true advocacy campaign is, at its core, an opportunity to draw more supporters in and retain them for future engagements to improve the health of your community. The following recruitment guidelines will help you accomplish these goals. 

In this section, you’ll learn about recruiting new advocates through a variety of tactics, including events, online, word-of-mouth, tapping into your competitors, and engaging in your community. Pick and choose the best recruitment options for your campaign and build a plan around it. 

Note that these tips are suggestions, not requirements. Choose the approach and tactics that work best for you, your organization, and your community. Regardless of how you decide to recruit new supporters, make sure you dedicate sufficient resources to communicating with the diverse audience you hope to engage. 

For instance, if you are trying to reach: 

Latino audiences: consider the need for translators and translated materials; build meaningful relationships with Latino-led and serving organizations that can help with recruitment. Remember to be authentic with your outreach. Get to know your audience and what messaging and resources will be most helpful to them. 

Decision makers: consider connecting with leaders who have successfully advocated for similar programs in their communities to use as examples and champions for the efforts in your community.

Disability audiences: make sure all of your marketing materials are in an accessible format. Be sure to include appropriate language and images that depict the disability community. Build meaningful relationships with disability led and serving organizations that can help you with recruitment and identify leadership roles within the campaign. be sure to include people with disability into the planning process so you don’t miss the mark in your marketing.

Potential Allies

Who Can Help

There are many organizations that work to increase access to water in schools. Some are singularly focused on one topic while others look at broader issues. While some groups may not perfectly align with your goals for this campaign, it is still worth reaching out to them, as they may be valuable partners for other programs you are pursuing or some of your long-term organizational goals. Be sure to review the Diverse Audiences section when considering who might be a potential ally.

In your recruitment efforts, make sure to also include organizations that are minority led. Work to ensure you include these groups in true collaboration and engage them throughout the campaign. Simply reaching out to ask an organization to sign a letter of support and not engaging any further is not supporting diversity within your campaign and your campaign will not be as strong as it could be because of that oversight.

Below are some suggestions for potential partners in your community:

  • Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) and school districts
  • Local water authorities and companies 
  • School board members
  • Local food policy councils
  • City, county and state public health departments
  • Those committed to increasing access to water
  • School board members
  • Local food policy councils
  • City, county and state public health departments
  • Nonprofit hospitals and healthcare organizations
  • Those focused on health and wellness for families with low incomes
  • Those focused on health and wellness for historically under-served communities
  • Local school organizations
  • Groups focused on social justice and civil rights in communities of color
  • Local faith leaders
  • Minority-focused press and media outlets
  • Groups focused on child welfare
  • Groups focused on nutrition education
  • Groups focused on food and water justice
  • Health care providers
  • Environmental advocacy organizations

Although some potential allies will be publicly outspoken about their opinions on your topic, others will be subtler in their approach. Before deciding on any potential partner or opponent, be sure to look at their goals, mission statement, programs, and activities to ensure they align with your priorities..

Recognition Plan

It’s no surprise that engaged and motivated advocates are more likely to take additional actions, like submitting a letter to the editor, signing a petition, or attending a rally. As you conduct your campaign, recognizing and thanking your advocates for their contribution to your efforts will be crucial in gaining and retaining your support base.


Phase 1 is for making introductions; phase 2 is about building relationships through education and engagement.

Topics in this conversation

Building Relationships

This is the perfect time to start building relationships. Stay in regular communication with your activists so that they remain engaged, informed, and ready to take action when you need. Start building relationships with the media, who tend to respond best to people who are organized, clear, polite, and have newsworthy things for them to write about. When preparing your media outreach efforts, use the following to determine if your story has one or more of these newsworthy hooks:

  • Timely: It’s an issue happening now, being talked about now, or being covered now in the media.
  • Relevant : The pitch applies to the state/region the outlet covers and to its audience.
  • Surprising: The pitch is an unusual way to tell a story previously told, contains an unusual voice, or there is a real story that tells the story in a surprising way.
  • Provocative: The pitch makes the reporter/editor think, analyze, etc., and they believe it will do the same for their audience.
  • Controversial: There is another side to the story, and it makes for good debate.

Media engagement should include both minority-serving and mainstream press. Be sure to check out the toolkit sections that provide sample introductory language for your social media and e-communication efforts directed at advocates and media.

Additionally, this is the time to start working with a diverse group of spokespeople relevant to your community by beginning to train others to serve as the voices of your campaign. Remember to think about your whole community, including those with a disability, and make sure all groups within the community have authentic engagement. Use the media and key messaging tips in this toolkit as a place to start. Make sure your spokespeople are familiar with your talking points so they are confident when speaking in public or with media. Lastly, be sure to schedule your press conferences and events so that you give reporters and community members ample notice to ensure optimal coverage.

Diverse Audiences

Engaging with diverse audiences makes good sense; the most successful campaigns are often the ones that speak to and engage as many different people as possible. Priority populations—including people living in high-poverty, urban areas (particularly African-American and Latino), people living in high-poverty, rural areas, and people with disability —are particularly important to engage as partners and advocates. These populations disproportionately carry the burden of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Below are some questions designed to make you think about who you are reaching out to and how. The following are thought-starters and not an exhaustive list:

  • Who is on our team already?
    • Look at your volunteer base, your advisors, and your staff.
    • Does your team have people from different backgrounds and experiences?
    • Do they represent the communities where you want to have the most impact—particularly if those communities are historically underserved? If not, where are the opportunities to do more?
  • How are we recruiting and engaging? If your team is not as diverse as it could be, consider expanding the ways you recruit and engage volunteers.
    • For instance, not everyone has access to the internet; if your campaign is based heavily online, you may be limiting who is able to join your efforts. Pen-and-paper recruitment and offline volunteer opportunities can help make sure more people are able to get involved.
    • Consider attending community-wide events or activities where you can engage with people face-to-face.
    • Contact local civic and community-based organizations and ask to share more about your efforts during their membership meetings.
  • Where are we recruiting and engaging? When it comes to getting people involved, location is just as important as technique.
    • Are you reaching out to local faith communities, civic organizations focused on people of color and Indigenous communities, civil rights groups, Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Hispanic-Serving Institutions/Tribal Institutions, Black Greek Letter Organizations, and the ethnic small business community?
    • Many faith communities have separate services in different languages. Are you equipped to speak to these audiences in different languages?
    • Are you getting face time? Try tabling at events that draw a diverse crowd or collaborating with the local ethnic Chamber of Commerce.
    • What is the accessibility like where you are recruiting? Can people with disability get to the meetings via accessible public transportation or complete streets? Are the meeting sites accessible and compliant with ADA standards?
  • Who are we talking to?
    • Make sure you are working with non-mainstream news outlets in your area, as well as the commonly read outlets. There may be newspapers, radio stations, or television networks geared toward diverse communities, particularly non-English-speakers and people of color. Ethnic media coverage can both provide new and different angles to your campaign and encourage diverse audiences to get involved with your work.
  • Is language a barrier to access?
    • If there are non-English-speakers in your area, consider having your materials translated and easily accessible at events and online. If you are planning to host phone banks, engage multilingual volunteers. In addition, if you are planning to table at events where people are likely to speak another language, make sure the people staffing your booth speak those languages.
    • All materials should be graded on accessibility and readability levels. Documents should be written at a 6th-grade comprehension level or lower
  • Is our team being receptive and inclusive?
    • Getting people to sign up or take action is one thing; fostering a welcoming, affirming, accessible environment is another. Listen to what your volunteers, advisors, and staff members say about your campaign, and strive for an environment where everyone has a seat at the table.
    • Strive to create an environment where partners can take part in the decision-making process, and ensure their considerations are considered.
  • Are we considering unique cultural perspectives?
    • Every culture has its own nuanced way of thinking and talking about issues. Try to learn what these issues are ahead of time.
    • Do not be afraid of what you do not know. Be open to learning, and allow your partners to help guide you in understanding these cultural perspectives and their lived experiences.
  • What else can we do?
    • Throughout your campaign, keep asking yourself the types of questions listed above. There are always opportunities to open your doors wider and expand your reach further.

Social Media Tips

It is going to take community support to ensure children in your community have access to safe and appealing drinking water at no charge during school hours. Fortunately, social media allows you to share your message with a wider audience than traditional door-to-door grassroots work can. With a few clicks, you can access the right people at the right moment, making them aware of the issue and garnering their support. The following tips will help you do just that: extend your community of advocates online to create an even bigger groundswell of support for the cause. National experts may already have sample resources you can model after or tailor for use in your campaign.  

Media Outreach

With more than 6.9 million active users on Twitter every day and 552 million daily, active users on Facebook, social media can serve as a powerful tool to amplify your message and reach highly targeted audiences. Just as consumers are increasingly turning to social media for news, so are journalists. While they use social media to follow items of personal interest and to interact with their own networks, they also use it to research stories and follow trends.


Now that your initial planning is done, it is time to act. Reach out to your advocates, your spokespeople, the media, etc., and let them know your campaign is in full motion.

Topics in this conversation

Actualizing the Campaign

Stay in regular touch with your engaged, diverse community members to keep them informed and engaged. During all stages, but especially this one, make sure you track the movement of the issue at hand so you know how to instruct your supporters. You may need them to do educational outreach at local gatherings to build popular support in the community. At other times, a social media action may be best to help bolster recruitment. They may need to write letters to their legislators because a vote in the statehouse is just around the corner. (The costs of planning and conducting this last type of activity will require lobbying funds.)

As for media, this is the phase where you want to follow through on the relationships you established in phase 2. By this time, you have made connections over the phone, social media, or email with reporters and local bloggers. Keep in regular touch with reporters to keep them informed, and give them ideas for covering your campaign.

If you are planning media events like press conferences, this is the time to execute. Get your spokespeople ready to lead events. For more details on media training, take a look at the Media Training Tips section of Build a Campaign, and make sure they reflect the diversity of the audience you’re trying to reach. Set up opportunities for new advocates to sign up to join the cause. Let media know when events are happening, and give them special incentives to cover the story, like a behind-the-scenes press pass that grants them an interview with your spokesperson and exclusive photo opportunities.

Action Alerts

Your existing database of supporters is perfectly positioned to become engaged grassroots activists.

By joining your email list, these individuals have already indicated they want to learn more about who you are and the issues important to you. The next step is converting their interest into a deeper level of commitment to your mission—and to helping kids across America—by getting your supporters to complete an action, such as signing a petition, communicating directly with policymakers and other decision makers, or attending events. Remember to develop action alerts in the relevant languages spoken in the community.

As you begin a conversation with your supporters through email, keep these goals in mind:

  • Educate them through issue updates or updated Web content. Communications like this allow you to:
    • Provide advocates with information, and cultivate their interest in an issue.
    • Identify the message areas that resonate best with subsets of the audience, allowing you to better tailor outreach.
    • Keep individuals engaged and updated during periods where critical action is not required, making it easier to activate them when the appropriate time comes.
  • Engage them in efforts to deepen their activism through surveys, “share your story” opportunities, or social media engagement. These interactions give people actions to take that help you:
    • Learn more about what type of participation people want to have.
    • Train activists how to be good stewards of issue messages.
    • Expand your reach by amplifying your message through individuals’ social networks.
    • Show activists the importance of their participation, so they are ready to respond in times where urgent action may be needed.
  • Activate them with new and varied calls-to-action based on the way their unique voices can make a difference. Your advocates can reach the public through:
    • Participation in public dialogue on key issues by commenting on news articles, blog posts, or polls.
    • Recruitment of new individuals to join the cause.
    • Attendance at public meetings, town halls, or hearings in support of your position.

You can also activate your supporters by asking them to contact decision makers via email, phone, postal mail, or in person to contribute their opinions. If your request reflects a view on specific legislation, asking advocates to contact their legislators will be lobbying.

Email action alerts also allow you to communicate with supporters personally, measure their interest through open rates and track their support through clicks on the links in your email. Because email communications have the capacity to be uniquely micro-targeted to recipients, sending alerts to your audience can be one of the most powerful ways to inspire action in support of your campaign.

Hosting a Media Event

 Working with local media is a key way to raise awareness about your campaign, priorities, and goals. Media coverage can help you educate communities, create conversation, and recruit new advocates. But before you can do any of these things, you must first thoughtfully develop and carefully plan how you want to present the issue to reporters. Building relationships with media and pursuing media advocacy well in advance of hosting a media event will help to ensure your message frame is understood and you are well positioned by reporters.  

Value of Phone Outreach

Even in today’s digital era, person-to-person contact remains one of the most effective means of relationship building. Below is an overview of how to train volunteers for phone outreach, as well as an explanation of two different types: phone banks and phone patch-through programs.

Why Op-Eds Matter

Public commentary has long been one of the most powerful ways to broadly communicate ideas. By having an opinion editorial, commonly called an op-ed, published, you’ll be able to convey your campaign’s essential messages to legislators, journalists and the community through the voice of one of your volunteers or advocates who is passionate about your cause.

In the past few years, competition from expanded news and information sources like blogs and social media has made publication easier, but competition for attention tougher. This means that you’ll have to offer your best thinking and most influential voices to maximize your chances of having a newspaper print your op-ed—and have people care who you are and what you have to say.

Op-eds can be persuasive and emotional in tone. For example: if your goal is to convince local and state decision makers to make sure students have access to safe and appealing water at schools for no charge, you could ask a community member to write an emotional op–ed about how the programs could affect their life and health.

Media Training Tips

Speaking to the media can seem a bit daunting, but by telling a compelling story you can gain tremendous traction with the public and decision makers. Unlike any other tactic for your campaign, an engagement with key media could allow you to access a wide audience in a personal manner.

Begin by determining what media outlets are important to move your campaign forward and develop your list of outlets and journalists. Remember to include media who have natural connections with the campaign. They’ll be more likely respond to your pitch, and you’ll be more likely to reach the audiences who care about your issue and may be willing to get more involved.

Once you know which outlets you want to contact, secure spokespeople who will resonate with the readers, viewers, or listeners of the outlets. Work with your media team to develop a newsworthy pitch. Make sure that your spokespeople are prepared to speak to the media and will have time available for interviews before you begin reaching out to the media.

With the appropriate preparation and practice, your spokesperson will become comfortable with your messaging and will be able to speak articulately and passionately about the issue. The guidelines below will help you prepare your advocate for media success.

Days at the Capitol

Individual meetings can go a long way toward making a difference with your legislator—but sometimes there is strength in numbers. If you are looking to combine a media event and a legislator meeting, you may consider hosting a day at the state capitol where advocates hold a rally and then attend scheduled meetings with decision makers. Before heading to the Capitol, you should be prepared to cite the water access issues in each legislator’s jurisdiction. 

Here are some things to think about as you plan your own day at the capitol.

Meeting with Legislators

Decision makers want to know what’s important to their constituents. Having face-to-face meetings with your advocates and their legislators is an effective way to humanize your topic, make it relevant for the decision makers, and encourage these leaders to commit to this issue. Whenever possible, schedule an in-person meeting with key decision makers and supporters from their districts. Identify the right advocates for each target based on interest and the ability to share a credible point of view. Make it easy for advocates to make the most of their visits by preparing briefing packets with talking points, key tips, and a one-pager to leave behind that overviews the issue and contains your contact information. See more tips below.

Whether you meet with representatives in local home offices or take a special trip to the state capitol, you can have a strong impact when you can look legislators in the eye and answer their questions about your campaign, share personal stories, and discuss proposed solutions. But don’t underestimate the value of meeting with the staff of decision makers. Staff are the lifeblood of a policy maker’s office and are key to keeping your issue in front of the decision maker.

Below are some helpful tips to make the most of your meetings.