While the basis of a successful campaign is similar at the state or federal level, there are several factors that make state advocacy more approachable than in Washington. Higher percentages of legislation passed, less partisan gridlock, more accessible policymakers, and less external pressures all combine to form a more inviting atmosphere for your advocacy campaigns.
With the right strategy, there is every opportunity to enact the changes that your organization is looking for. We spoke with several experts to bring you their tips for success in state-level advocacy campaigns. It’s going to take work, but following these best practices will put you well on your way to getting your issues across the line.
1. Without Integrity, There Is No Success
It nearly goes without saying but honesty and authenticity are crucial if you want to get your campaign off the ground. If legislators can’t trust you, they will not be very sympathetic to your issues.
Integrity goes further than just personal character, though. Any information presented to policymakers has to be diligently researched, sourced, and confirmed.
Legislators have a lot on their plates and don’t have time to fact-check all of the information presented to them. You have to provide 100 percent reliable information each time you are campaigning an issue. The last thing you want to do is have a legislator questioned about incorrect data that your organization provided them. This is a surefire way to lose the confidence of legislators and their support for your issues.
2. Establish Your Presence and Build Relationships
Building positive, mutually beneficial relationships with legislators across all party lines will come in very handy when you do have an issue come up. You don’t want to be seen as that one friend who only comes around when they need something. Consistently being at the legislature and offering to lend a hand where you can pays dividends.
“Communication is key,” says Cheri Greven, executive director at Planned Parenthood Advocates Mar Monte. “Keep elected officials and candidates informed on your issues and/or processes, be transparent and clear in your requests, and ask how you can help them, of course, while always observing campaign or ethics laws.”
“We will bring politicians right out to our farms. It’s part of our Adopt-a-Legislator program,” says Lily Guthrie, state and local government affairs specialist at Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. “We invite legislators to visit one of our members’ farms, give them a tour, and build that positive relationship with them. The legislators are usually very excited about this.”
3. Constant Communication With Your Stakeholders
Communication is a vital component of all relationships and professional relationships are no different. Whether you are a private company, labor union, special interest group, NGO, or other grassroots organization, knowing what is important to your support group will be instrumental when you look to engage supporters for your advocacy campaigns.
It will help you decide not only which issues to pursue, but how to frame your messaging around those campaigns as well. If you can identify with your supporters and bring issues to them that they care about, you will greatly increase your rate of engagement.
“At the start of each legislative session, we speak with all of our members and gauge which issues are important to them. This way we know that we are working on issues that our members care about,” says Guthrie.
4. Understand Your Supporter Demographics
“Target, target, target. Ask yourself who do you want to communicate with and why? What is your goal?” says Greven. “Any communication will be more successful if it’s targeted to the audience and with a tactic that meets your goal.”
Knowing who your supporters are will lead to more effective engagement efforts, and ultimately more effective advocacy. Technology and advocacy software are very helpful tools to understand your demographics, particularly if you have a large support group. Targeting the right supporters gets your campaign started on the right track.
“It depends on the issue. If we’ve got an issue related to dairy, we’ll reach out to our counties that are highly involved with dairy and ask for their engagement,” says Guthrie.
Not only is it important to know who to contact, but demographic data can also tell you how to contact them. Is the best way to reach senior citizens by phone, email, or TikTok? What about high school students? If you don’t know where to reach your supporters, you’re making the job of activating them more difficult than it needs to be.
5. Collaborate With Like-Minded Organizations
In advocacy, there is strength in numbers. Reach out to those organizations that have similar interests and find the best way to share your resources so you can achieve your common goal.
“Collaboration in advocacy — and in most things in life — adds value to the process and the eventual outcome,” says Greven. “Maintaining good relationships with intersectional or like-minded partners will help keep you informed on the community’s needs and help you keep your own supporters informed and engaged. Like-minded organizations can be thought partners as you determine your advocacy campaigns and can help strengthen or execute the final plan.”
Often there are like-minded organizations at the national level that can be very helpful in strengthening campaigns and providing resources to help you reach your goals.
6. Diversify Your Tactics
“Provide various opportunities and levels for supporters to engage. For example, give options to contact a legislator. Not everyone feels comfortable in a lobby meeting, so providing options to call or email will increase the likelihood of engagement,” says Greven.
Different engagement tactics have different impacts. Still, one of the most powerful things you can do in an advocacy campaign is to have someone affected by the issue tell their story.
“Once you know your audience and your goal, you can determine your tactic. It could be op-eds in multiple languages or videos on social media with a link to a petition,” says Greven. “In addition to the medium, it’s also important to determine the best messenger, like an email to supporters from a key community leader versus a staff member of the organization.”
Take Your Advocacy to the Next Level
VoterVoice, FiscalNote’s flagship advocacy solution, provides cross sections of your demographic groups, in-depth engagement data, and much more all on one platform where you can communicate with supporters and mobilize your campaigns. If you want to increase your effectiveness and streamline your advocacy campaigns, VoterVoice can take your state-level advocacy to the next level.