When taking on an advocacy campaign, or developing a plan to fight/pass legislation or regulations, it’s easy to become so engrossed in the detail of execution that the end goal can get fuzzy. This is why a strategic plan to kickstart and maintain momentum is vitally important to your future success. Right from the beginning, it’s critical to set forth a plan that establishes where you are, where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there.
To help, we asked the experts to give us their top advocacy strategies that stand the test of time. Here are 13 advocacy strategies used by top government relations professionals to execute their campaigns.
1. Determine a Clear Objective
One thing leads to another, and as often happens, the more immersed you get into one issue, the more others surface. Don’t get distracted. An effective strategy must be clear, concise, and constant. Frequently shifting goals and objectives creates confusion and can ultimately lead to digression, disgruntlement, and possibly defections by members and volunteers who need to see progress to sustain interest.
People join organizations based on what they are trying to achieve so make sure your campaign objectives are clearly tied to your overall organization’s goals. That is the recommendation from Gregory Blascovich, president at Keep It Public. Not only will you be able to keep your supporters engaged, but also avoid working in silos for each campaign, making your overall strategy more robust. That’s why it’s important to clarify priorities and maintain baselines or benchmarks in charting progress.
2. Do Your Research
Building a good campaign strategic plan means ensuring your team is clear not only on the objective but also on every and any nuance around the topic. Sloane Davidson, founder and CEO at Hello Neighbor, recommends paying particular attention to:
- Any organizational and external constraints
- Who the potential allies and opponents are
- Who are the stakeholders and key decision-makers
- What are the inflection points
- Any important deadlines to meet
With all that research and data, you can then focus on the tactics that will get your campaign on a path to success.
3. Focus on Building Relationships
It’s no secret that personal relationships are the most effective way to reach influential lawmakers. Despite advances in advocacy technology, social media strategies, and data-driven outreach, sometimes it takes personal relationships to advance a cause.
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Many associations and businesses have members with “hidden and untapped” relationships with legislators and policymakers, says Chip Felkel, CEO of Rap Index, a strategic communications consulting firm based in Greenville, South Carolina. These could be business associates, former schoolmates, or members of the same professional association or house of worship — they could even be related.
The questions you ask new members and volunteers regarding who they know, what organizations they belong to, where they went to school, and so on, can all become
key factors in developing an effective strategy. At the very least, geographically, they’ll be constituents of a lawmaker that may prove useful in the future.
“You need to have an appreciation for the value of relationships that exist between your members and those you are trying to influence,” Felkel says. It’s not only about having the right message, but also about having the right messenger.
4. Drive Change Through Social Media
Part of a successful campaign strategy hinges on communication. Outreach is certainly a tactic, but it should also be a strategy, both long and short term.
In our 2020 Advocacy Benchmark Report, we saw a jump in traffic from social media to our clients’ VoterVoice action centers. In 2018, about 8.7 percent of people came via a link shared on social media, in 2019 it reached 13.3 percent, and during the first six months of 2020 it jumped to 22.5 percent!
This is not surprising as we have found that for certain organizations and demographics people respond better when someone they know shares a call to action versus an organization they may or may not know. As your supporters continue to share your campaigns on social media, understanding the channels they use and how they interact with these platforms is key.
5. Master Email Marketing
While social media is on the rise, email is still an effective method of communication for advocacy. By being able to slice and dice your database — be it by interest, geography, or previous action — email allows a high granularity when targeting, especially if you keep your database clean and updated with the latest contact information and activity.
“Database and email management skills and communication to our supporters is key. Once we’ve captured their emails then it’s up to us to engage, educate, and inspire. It cannot replace face-to-face interactions but it allows us to control the message, and hopefully turn the mildly interested supporter into a fully engaged advocate,” says Jason Amaro, Southwest chapter coordinator at Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
Once an advocate joins your database, keep them informed and engaged on your biggest policy issues. Send them newsletters, surveys, petitions, polls, and more, so they take action on your behalf. FiscalNote’s advocacy tools allow you to build an email within minutes, incorporating graphics and a clear call to action. Ensure your members and volunteers are aware of the little accomplishments along the way so they can sustain the momentum necessary to achieve the ultimate goal.
6. Use Digital Tools
It’s almost impossible to do a successful advocacy campaign without a digital solution nowadays. Cutting-edge grassroots and grasstops digital advocacy solutions such as FiscalNote’s VoterVoice, provide an end-to-end view of the lifecycle of your advocacy campaigns, allowing you to track engagement, monitor activity, analyze your results, show your ROI and improve upon the efficacy of your campaigns.
“If you have the money to invest in one of these platforms, you absolutely should. It makes it a lot easier than trying to manually keep up,” says Nicole Patton, manager of grassroots advocacy at National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS).
7. Educate Members on how to Communicate With Legislators
To be effective ambassadors, your advocates need to be prepared and well versed in the best strategies for communicating with lawmakers, the appropriate way to communicate your organization’s issues, and any technical aspects they should keep in mind when doing so.
“We prepare guides for [advocates], give them the opportunity to draft letters, and help them communicate directly with legislative assistants to develop a personal relationship,” says Julie Eller, director of patient-centered strategies at the Arthritis Foundation.
Take advantage of the myriad of virtual platforms that have surfaced in the last 12 months to do more frequent training sessions with your advocates that can be taken on their own time.
“We are launching an online learning management system for our advocates. Trainings are available on a virtual platform, so it’s on-demand. It’s not an expectation that stakeholders or patients come to a training, but they can do this on their own time,” says Molly Guthrie, director of public policy and advocacy at the Susan G. Komen Foundation. “Right now we’re doing this at the congressional district level to try to have an advocacy champion in every congressional district that has gone through this training system.”
8. Develop a Grassroots Strategy
Beyond training your advocates, make it easy for them to connect with their local, state, and federal lawmakers, to tell their story and ensure your organization’s issue is heard by those with the power to enact change.
“Get your priorities in front of grassroots organizations,” says Anthony Gad, national director of research at State Innovation Exchange (SiX). “All these elected officials matter, but the work should be done through and in partnership with community advocates and through the grassroots.”
”"All these elected officials matter, but the work should be done through and in partnership with community advocates and through the grassroots."Anthony Gad, National Director of Research State Innovation Exchange (SiX)
FiscalNote’s grassroots advocacy solutions automatically match your supporters’ address and connect them with their correct local, state, and federal lawmakers. Simplifying the action process for your advocates can go a long way in getting them to take action on your behalf.
9. Use Data to Your Advantage
Showing the ROI of your advocacy efforts can sometimes be simplified to whether you got certain legislation or regulations passed or stopped, or whether you got the funding you were looking for. But there’s so much more to your advocacy efforts that could go unnoticed.
Tracking and collecting data during every step of your campaign is critical to showing the value you and your team bring to the organization. “Measurement is becoming increasingly critical and that means we somehow need to translate soft data into something that has an assigned value to it, and that we report on that value or a hybrid of metrics that is able to better paint the picture of what government affairs does,” says John Pournoor, global head of government affairs at 3M.
FiscalNote’s advocacy tools allow you to track everything — from email open and action rates, action center visits, and the total number of messages sent or lawmakers reached/influenced. Making sure you’re measuring every interaction is key to demonstrating the real impact of your work.
10. Make National Issues a Local One
The famous phrase goes “all politics is local,” and the same could be said about advocacy. Tying your issues to the day-to-day life of your supporters is the best way to spark action. Make it personal for them and give them the tools and language to take that back to their own networks and spark action on your behalf.
“People want to talk about their own people,” says Kimberly Gray, events & communications coordinator at the Associated General Contractors of Alaska. You are more likely to get stakeholders to engage and legislators to listen if you can connect your issues back to their day-to-day life and explain how it affects them at a local level.
11. Choose Which Issues are Most Important
A lot of the times you might be fighting many battles at once, and thus running concurrent campaigns to move the needle on your issues. However, there is a fine line between getting your supporters fired up and getting them exhausted.
“Learning how to avoid issue fatigue but having the ability to determine what issues are deemed [necessary for] grassroots outreach versus what issues are better suited for outreach by our internal lobbyists,” says Michael Jacobson, director of industry relations and political engagement at the U.S. Travel Association. “It’s important to realize that not every issue or Congressional action requires activating our entire membership.”
Use the data and metrics you are tracking to gauge levels of participation and interest among your advocates and preempt fatigue. Also, make sure to review the specific content of your outreach to decide whether to engage your grassroots audience or not. If you can make it very personal and local, as mentioned above, this could be a good opportunity for grassroots. If not, it’s time to leverage your internal team and connections.
12. Incorporate Stories About Policy Impact
Leverage your advocates and empower them to tell their own stories. FiscalNote’s advocacy solutions give your supporters ways to educate lawmakers and each other and the community with testimonials about how your issues affect them throughout the year.
”"If you are not telling a person’s story, then you don’t have a real strategy or message. Period."Andy Polk, Senior Vice President Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA)
First-person accounts can go the extra mile to get your message across and increase engagement because they show real people they can identify with versus a faceless person from an organization. “Talk about how policy or law impacts people, families, and especially children. Data points and infographics don’t matter unless you have a real story of real people to tell.
If you are not telling a person’s story, then you don’t have a real strategy or message. Period,“ says Andy Polk, senior vice president at the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA).
13. Know Your Audience
When working on a campaign, identifying the right target audience from your entire network of stakeholders and advocates is a vital step for getting a higher engagement. While it may seem like you are reaching a smaller number of people, you would be doing so knowing that this is the right group to take the lead and effect change on your issues.
Segmenting and knowing your target audience also helps you craft a message with the right tone that is cognisant of any geographical or cultural sensitivities, direct, and specific so it resonates with them and increases the likelihood of taking action. Delia Coleman, director of strategic communications at Equal Rights Advocates, recommends trying to identify your target audience’s values: what motivates them? how do they see themselves? Then, stack your campaign goals against that information and craft a message that can resonate and motivate them. Frame your issue in light of their worldview.
FiscalNote’s advocacy tools allow you to slice and dice your audience as much or as little as you need to. Be it by previous engagement, demographic, or location, you can make sure you hit the right audience with the right message, increasing the likelihood of engagement.
This strategy helped the New York State Animal Protection Federation (NYSAPF) secure a $5 million capital fund. Libby Post, NYSAPF’s executive director, segmented her audience to send specific messages to animal shelter workers, versus the general public who supports their cause.
Manage Your Advocacy Strategies with FiscalNote
FiscalNote’s advocacy solutions empower organizations of all sizes to quickly adapt and execute comprehensive advocacy strategies for their organizations depending on what’s happening with the issues they and their stakeholders care about.
Mobilize your supporters to message lawmakers in multiple ways through our flagship product VoterVoice. Then, reach the legislators that matter with an advocacy media advertising package from Roll Call.