Welcome to our newest installment of GrassScoops: An Interview Series. We will be chatting with grassroots advocacy changemakers from leading associations, nonprofits and corporations each month. We will highlight the challenges they encountered, lessons learned, and best practices they recommend, so that others may learn from their experiences.
In this edition, we are excited to chat with Jennifer Fox, Manager of Political Advocacy and Engagement at the National Restaurant Association, about grassroots advocacy at the federal and state levels and working with grasstops teams.
Tell us about your role and what you do at the National Restaurant Association?
I am the Manager of Political Advocacy and Engagement at the Association. I oversee all of our grassroots programs with one goal in mind – getting members of the restaurant industry more engaged politically and within their communities. Our overall grassroots program is called Kitchen Cabinet, which is a grassroots movement of restaurateurs committed to growing opportunity in our industry and strengthening the communities where we live and work. From in-district meetings with members of Congress, known as Restaurant Roundtables, to our annual fly-in, we aim to make advocacy accessible to all 14.7 million individuals employed by the restaurant industry.
Have you always been interested in a career in government affairs and advocacy?
Not even a little bit! I ended up in DC by happenstance – my parents made me pick my college out of a hat. I studied international affairs at the George Washington University and interned at different organizations throughout the city, including at the Office of Presidential Correspondence (OPC) at the White House. While at OPC, I gained first-hand experience about how policy was affecting Americans – from business owners in California to students in Maine. It was then that I became interested in advocacy. With a minor in nutrition, the National Restaurant Association was a perfect marriage of my interests.
We know the National Restaurant Association does a lot of work both at the state and federal levels. How is grassroots advocacy different at each level?
The biggest difference is what it takes to move the needle. On a local level, you can activate 15 advocates and quickly make an alderman aware of the consequences of a policy; on the federal level, you need your voice to be a lot louder. However, a key to grassroots advocacy on all levels is identifying what is meaningful to your advocates. If someone really cares about education issues, then make sure he or she is your key advocate on those issues.
The restaurant industry has many stakeholders. Can you tell us about how you develop messaging that resonates with different stakeholders for the same issues?
There are two key strategies to effective messaging for the restaurant industry. The first is keeping it short and simple. Restaurant owners and operators are business people first – their priority is serving customers and keeping doors open. They do not have time to read a 500-page tax bill. It is our job to provide a quick and easy-to-understand synopsis of intricate policy issues.
Identifying why different stakeholders should care about our issues is also key to our success. We spend a lot of time talking to our members to see how policies affect them and their employees. As we develop better understanding of how the restaurant business works, we can develop messaging that is relevant.
How do you keep up on trends with an ever-changing political and grassroots advocacy environment?
I like to attend events and idea-share with my colleagues. Events (Phone2Action ones in particular!) are great opportunities to hear about how other organizations around town are innovating.
As the grassroots manager at the National Restaurant Association, how do you work with the grasstops team?
We are the same team. I like to think of it as a ladder of engagement. A member will start by taking action on an alert and email their elected official. Next, we aim to get them to meet with their elected officials in-district. I think we have a unique advantage as compared to any other group in town – every elected official has at least one favorite restaurant!
What trends do you see in the grassroots advocacy space and what are your predictions for the future of digital advocacy?
It is exciting to see grassroots advocacy on the rise. With more groups and citizens getting active, it is important to continue to highlight causes that matter. I hope one day we can just ask Alexa to email our members of Congress and take action via an Apple Watch!
If you want an easy way to take action, click here to contact your legislators today!
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