There’s an art to creating an effective advocacy campaign. With so many tools and tactics at your disposal, it takes skill and mastery to create a plan that integrates them all in pursuit of a focused policy goal. But on the flip side, being flexible and able to course-correct your plan based on what happens on the ground is crucial. If you can master the art of bringing all these together in a dynamic advocacy campaign, you’ll be able to maximize your success and drive public policy change.
Organizations seeking to influence public policy have a wide range of tools at their disposal:
- Online engagement through Twitter, Facebook, emails, and phone calls
- Offline engagement through letters, marches, townhalls, and rallies
- Grassroots engagement, bringing crowds of people together to amplify an issue
- Grasstops engagement, fostering legislative relationships and building coalitions with like-minded groups
The best organizations bring all these tools and tactics together in strategic, integrated, and dynamic campaigns to drive public policy change.
Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA) used this strategy during this year’s 40-day Georgia legislative session to great success. During their campaign, they saw a 199% increase in the number of advocates interested in their cause, a 428% increase in legislative connections, and, most importantly, secured funding for charter schools throughout the state.
Here are some of the key lessons they learned.
Put your plan together before the session starts.
Once the legislative session starts, it’s full speed ahead. Bills are being written and rewritten. Legislators’ schedules are packed full of committee meetings and hearings. Constituents and media are vying for just a few minutes of each legislator’s time. This is not the time to put together a plan. This is the time for action.
That’s why GCSA Executive Vice President Andrew Lewis said in our most recent webinar that you should always put your advocacy plan together before the session starts.
Grasstops and grassroots teams should meet well in advance of the session to build a strategy that integrates all the tools at your disposal. Grasstops teams figure out the best ways to influence key legislators and build coalitions with like-minded groups. Grassroots teams find ways to engage supporters in online and offline activity, equipping them with powerful messages to sway their legislators. After pulling all these tools together into a detailed plan, you should have all the pieces you need to start engaging advocates before and during the session.
While putting together a plan that utilizes all your tools is important, even more valuable is the ability to course-correct as the situation unfolds. A lot happens in a legislature, and sometimes strategies have to change at the drop of a hat—or you lose any hope of accomplishing your goals.
Say, for instance, you have a unexpected productive meeting with a legislator who was on the fence on your issue, but has since shifted and given you support. It’s important to leverage that momentum by mobilizing your grassroots advocates to underscore the positive feedback you received. More often than not, unexpected victories energize your grassroots, and energized grassroots can lead to more unexpected victories.
In the webinar, Lewis talked about how during a conversation with a legislator, he learned new information that necessitated a change in strategy. After the meeting, he had the grassroots team create a new call-to-action based on the new information to reinforce the grasstops conversation he had had with legislators.
Let your grassroots advocates tell their stories.
Grasstops teams may take a more active role in putting together your legislative strategy, but grassroots teams are the ones who motivate your supporters to speak out on the issues that matter to them.
Lewis describes his grassroots advocates—parents of charter school students—as the people who “storm the Bastille.” They care so deeply about their children’s schools being funded that when it came time to reach out to their elected officials, they were willing to invest time and energy in driving public policy change.
These parents also had a long-standing relationship with GCSA. Because of the trust with their association, these parents were more willing to take action when called upon than they otherwise may have been. As Phone2Action Co-Founder Ximena Hartsock said in the webinar, people trust organizations they’re already a part of more than new organizations.
Regardless of the type of person who’s going to “storm the Bastille” for your cause, they are the most valuable resource you have. Your organization’s members already care about your cause, have a personal interest in your success, and trust you enough to take action on your behalf.
These “super-advocates” are more than just civically minded people. They’re the heart and soul of what you do.
Use technology to amplify your message—but remember it doesn’t replace offline relationships.
When it comes to technology versus personal relationships, it’s not “either-or” but “both-and.”
Think of technology and offline relationships not as competitors, but occupying different spaces. Offline relationships help you build rapport with legislators so you can figure out the messages that will resonate with them. Technology helps you amplify those messages and mobilize hundreds and thousands of advocates to take action.
Lewis realized the importance of combining online and offline activity when he visited a conference for education reform in 2014 with his legislator. The organization putting on the event was a partner of Phone2Action, and during the event the organizer asked attendees to take action and contact their legislators. Lewis sent the message through a Phone2Action campaign, and immediately the legislator sitting next to him received it. It was there that Lewis realized the power of online engagement, and how it changes the game for advocacy.
Technology like Phone2Action gives a megaphone to the messages that people are using to influence legislators. Thousands of people can spread your message across social media platforms, fill legislators’ inboxes with emails, and flood their offices with phone calls. This amplifies all the efforts happening offline and compounds your campaign’s effectiveness.
To learn more about how you can combine both online and offline, and grasstops and grassroots strategies to develop integrated advocacy campaigns, click here to view the complete webinar. By using all the tools and tactics at your disposal, you can walk away having successfully driven a public policy change, just like GCSA and their advocates did.