The Advocacy Association, in partnership with VoterVoice, recently hosted its Top 20 in 2023, awards at FiscalNote’s Global Headquarters in D.C. The awards highlight advocacy practitioners who excelled in their profession during the past year. Winners have shown they lead with innovation, mentorship, and passion for helping the advocacy community.
We asked some of these winners about their success in the last year, the lessons they’ve learned, and what they’re taking with them into 2024. Their illuminating answers can provide stealable solutions, strategies for success, and inspiration as the year winds down. Here’s what they had to say.
Meet Your Award-Winning Experts
Director of Advocacy Engagement
Muscular Dystrophy Association
Senior Policy Counsel
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Director of Advocacy
Children’s Hospital Association
Senior Director of Government Affairs
and Public Policy
American Gas Association
What factors contributed to your success in advocacy this year?
Fisher: The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) can only do its advocacy work with its amazing grassroots advocates and critical support from our donors and partners. I have been blown away by seeing how effective MDA advocates have been this year in sharing their story, especially when advocating for our #AccessibleAirTravel campaign during this year’s Federal Aviation Act (FAA) Reauthorization process.
One of the most significant storytelling projects we completed was filming the experience of two MDA advocates who use wheelchairs to show the challenges they face when flying. It was vital we show the entire process, even the parts that might make people uncomfortable to view. These videos received over 2 million views on all platforms with countless social media engagements. They were shared with key lawmakers and helped us recruit over 1,000 new online advocates. MDA recently announced a partnership with the Transportation Securing Administration (TSA) to train its employees to better utilize MDA video content.
In addition to MDA Hill Day including visits to the Hill to speak with lawmakers, MDA advocates have sent over 10,000 letters to Congress urging representatives to improve air travel, with over 35 percent including personal stories. It’s no coincidence the House passed a strong FAA Reauthorization bill earlier this year and we are hopeful the Senate will do the same shortly.
In sum, we achieved success because MDA has passionate advocates who effectively told their stories and urged Congress to take action on very timely legislation.
Evans: Having pre-existing relationships with the players and decision-makers and having a team around me that understood my immediate needs including help with legal research.
Mihalik: So many things contributed to CHA’s advocacy success this year, but I’ll highlight our partnerships with innovative vendors were key to finding our voice on campaigns that targeted both healthcare consumers and the D.C. Beltway. Finding and keeping those relationships strong is building our consistency.
Cunningham: The incredible team at AGA, along with our member companies and their lobbyists, contributed to my success. They provide the data and real customer impacts that inform our advocacy and help spell out why our issues are so important.
How did technology help your advocacy efforts in the last year?
Fisher: VoterVoice is vital for MDA advocates to contact their lawmakers and serves as our primary Action Center for volunteer advocates to raise their voices. In addition to delivering over 10,000 messages to Congress on accessible air travel, MDA advocates routinely act on government agency regulations.
For example, last year, the Department of Transportation (DOT) asked the public to submit comments on its efforts to improve lavatories on the most popular type of airplane. VoterVoice made it easy for our advocates to contact DOT on this issue. Of all the comments DOT received, 80 percent of them came from MDA advocates, many including a personal story. It’s no surprise that when DOT released its airplane lavatory rule in 2023, the Agency took many of the recommendations our advocates sent via VoterVoice.
Evans: When you are in the trenches of state policymaking, things can change by the minute. Committee hearings get scheduled, bills get called up on the floor for a vote, amendments start flying, and you have to be in a position to adapt to the environment. That means pulling together committee testimony, talking points for members, and press releases at a moment’s notice. It’s imperative to have the tools and systems in place to facilitate success in such rapidly changing terrain.
Mihalik: CQ Healthbeat is rounding out our advocacy communications this year. Each Beltway news outlet offers something slightly different so it’s important to make sure you are showing up wherever your audience is!
Cunningham: Continuing to meet online provides additional access, flexibility, and opportunity for lobbyists to better engage with staff on the Hill and stakeholders alike. Technology allows us to be better connected and more engaged and enables us to connect with more audiences than ever before.
What is your top piece of advice for advocacy professionals in 2024?
Fisher: First, with 2024 being an election year, Congress will likely be even more stuck in partisan gridlock than they are now. In addition to ensuring lawmakers hear from your advocates, I’d recommend finding additional ways to advocate for change. Don’t forget the government agencies, corporations, or other institutions that can help your communities. Influencing Congress is important, but there are more ways to make change for your communities.
Second, people are more distracted than ever, so it’s crucial we find ways to cut through the noise. We learned through the MDA Advocacy campaign for #AccessibleAirTravel that personal stories are still the best way to make a statement for change. Finding the right volunteer advocate with the right story can be the most effective tool in your advocacy toolbox. It’s worth taking the time to find that key person.
Evans: This industry is built on relationships. You have to show up year-round, not just when you need something. Remember birthdays and any other important dates, accomplishments, and milestones. We were successful in this redistricting cycle because we had spent many years leading up to this making ourselves known to the leaders and officials who played a role in the process.
Mihalik: My advice for advocacy professionals this year is to find your voice and share your work with others advocating on the same issues. Define the aspect of the issue you are going to tackle and where you can add something to the conversation and partner with the people taking a different tack.
Cunningham: I’d encourage advocacy professionals to continue to utilize technology and think of remote meetings as an ongoing asset; they make connecting easier than ever and that connection is just as valuable virtually as it is in person.
The Technology You Need for 2024 Advocacy Success
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Whether you’re looking to educate supporters, survey their interests, or drive action, VoterVoice can help. Learn more about how you can maximize your impact with our award-winning digital advocacy tool.
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