Lighter summer schedules make this a good time to send your advocates to “summer school” and better train them on your issues, how to be a great advocate, and what they can do to get involved.
Supporters likely have more time in the summer months to read emails, watch videos, and peruse your content fully. Email message volume dips in June and July and is at its lowest in August, VoterVoice’s 2021 Advocacy Benchmark Report shows. This means your summer campaigns will have less competition for your advocates’ attention. Here are some ways to take advantage of this time and make sure you’re able to mobilize your advocates to the fullest ahead of a busy fall and election season.
Create a Curriculum
Creating a summer school curriculum can help your organization stay organized and provide advocates a clear picture of what you’re asking them to do. “Think of it as an instructor-to-student type of relationship,” says Joshua Habursky, deputy executive director and chief lobbyist at Premium Cigar Association.
Habursky has found the August recess a perfect time to kick off an advocate summer training program. He uses a curriculum for each week that incorporates tutorials, which can include watching on-demand webinars and “homework” assignments. He even holds “office hours” each week to give advocates an opportunity to set up calls and get their questions answered.
Your curriculum should focus on topics like brand awareness, legislative change, why advocates should care, and what you need them to do. Going back to the basics can “help them understand and be champions for you,” says Sean Keefer, government relations director at Ecolab. Preview big topics and issues you anticipate tackling in the fall, provide details on processes and timelines, and help supporters take ownership of the process.
Give Them Homework
In addition to providing reading materials, instructional videos, and how-tos for your organization’s supporters, Habursky suggests giving them homework — weekly assignments throughout the summer. These could include signing up a friend, making a post on social media, filling out a worksheet, or making a financial contribution.
“Creativity is essential in creating a curriculum,” Habursky says. He often ties advocate education to holidays to make it more fun: advocacy trick-or-treat in October and 12 days of advocacy during the winter holidays, for example.
Consider designing your educational materials creatively, too — for example, Habursky has used a “Back to Congress” infographic that details advocacy priorities for the upcoming months with eye-catching visuals.
Let Them Practice
Give advocates suggestions on how to prepare for a meeting with lawmakers, and give them plenty of opportunities to practice and role play scenarios to get more comfortable having a conversation and making an ask.
“Practice the message and performance so when the time of a meeting comes, there’s been a discussion on who should say what and some of the potential issues to avoid in conversation,” Keefer recommends.
Preparation and thoughtfulness are key but can be stressful when advocates are short on time before a meeting. Taking the time to slow down in the summer and practice, discuss pre-reads for legislators, and talk about following up after a meeting can pay off during a hectic season in the fall.
“Help them understand the part they will play and talk about how to read a room,” Keefer says. “You may have 15 slides prepared, but if the legislator comes 15 minutes late, you need to adjust and give the elevator version.” Advocates will need to be agile and move quickly during meetings with lawmakers. They also need to know who they’ll be meeting with (background and areas of connectivity) to establish a better relationship.
”A lot of it is trial and error. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach; you have to understand your industry and organization and meet advocates where they’re at.Joshua HaburskyDeputy executive director and chief lobbyist, Premium Cigar Association
Know Your Advocates
The best way to reach and educate your advocates depends on who they are — and no one knows this better than you. Consider the demographics of your advocates to determine how best to engage them. They may prefer in-person events, be on TikTok rather than Facebook, or be excited by a training followed by a cocktail hour.
“A lot of it is trial and error,” Habursky says. “It’s not a cookie-cutter approach; you have to understand your industry and organization and meet advocates where they’re at.”
In general, many people are “sick of social media” and this shouldn’t necessarily be the go-to way of reaching advocates, Habursky advises. “Two years ago, I would have really emphasized social media,” he says. “But now it’s all about interpersonal skills — being able to connect and have a face-to-face conversation.” Even if advocates will be having these conversations virtually, they still need to master the art of having a conversation with lawmakers rather than talking at them.
Summer can be a time to assess your advocates’ strengths and find ways to make the most of them. Find out which advocates have strong relationships with lawmakers, who has graphic design skills, and who has lots of volunteer hours available — then, empower them to use their skills and experience to effect change.
Educate Internal Advocates Too
Some of your strongest advocates might come from within your organization, so don’t neglect to help them brush up on their skills, too. “Make sure there’s an understanding of your functions internally so they can be advocates,” Keefer says. Invite employees to legislative meetings and fundraisers, getting them on the same page so external advocates can come into the fold more easily.
Grow Your Advocate Base
It’s sometimes said that advocacy is a numbers game. Increasing your number of supporters can be another focus this summer, which means first educating new audiences on how the issues affect them or why they matter on the whole. It’s important to share information via a variety of media to meet new audiences where they’re already at.
On your action center, you can use web pages to inform new and existing audiences on what’s happening and why advocacy is critical now and in the coming months. You can also pull in blog posts, which provide more space for detailed content, such as features on impacted communities and populations.
Often, issues gain momentum via a cascading series of actions — a sort of digital domino effect or what colloquially is known as the bandwagon effect. Seeing that other people have taken action spurs additional action. Likewise, a spotlight on impact ignites additional attention. That attention can come in the form of support, financing, advocates, or ideally, all three.
”Ensure your advocates feel that buy-in and are with you to the end, rather than splitting off because of a lack of engagement.Sean KeeferGovernment relations director, Ecolab
Manage Advocate Relationships Year-Round
While summer provides an excellent opportunity to educate advocates, it’s important to keep in touch all year, giving them the tools they need to represent your organization well. Regular updates and check-ins, whether a monthly newsletter or quarterly town hall meeting, ensure advocates stay connected and can get their questions answered.
Some advocates are more comfortable one-on-one rather than in a group setting, so offer opportunities for both, Keefer suggests. “Make meetings active and lively so they’re meeting personalities, and try to get higher levels of the organization involved,” he says. “Ensure your advocates feel that buy-in and are with you to the end, rather than splitting off because of a lack of engagement.”
Having special events throughout the year, whether conferences, roundtable discussions, or fly-ins, also show that your organization is active and continuing to progress toward its goals.
Leverage Technology to Power Your Advocate Summer School
It’s more important than ever to have the right advocacy solution that allows you to seamlessly move from in-person to virtual to engage and connect with as many advocates as possible. From planning your advocate “summer school” to empowering supporters to champion your organization’s issues year-round, VoterVoice has the tools you need to organize supporters and measure your impact, while ensuring that your message is heard by those with the power to enact change and drive results.
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