As a $2 trillion bill to address the needs of COVID-19 worked its way through Congress, scores of healthcare nonprofits advocated for funding, tax provisions and other initiatives. The language they used matched the urgency of the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to decimate community-driven charitable organizations like the American Cancer Society (ACS) that are on the front lines of helping cancer patients now and in the future,” the Cancer Action Network told its supporters. “Call your U.S. Senators and ask them to include assistance for community-based organizations like ACS in the next coronavirus relief bill.”
For nonprofits that address healthcare, advocacy is a road to the resources they need to carry out the mission. In some cases, the future of their organizations depends on it. More importantly, so does the health of their constituents.
Healthcare nonprofits serve people who are most at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are people fighting cancer and leukemia. They are those who have multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease. The immuno-compromised community needs resources and action to overcome this pandemic.
This is a fight these organizations cannot lose.
‘A Huge Surge in Need’
For nonprofits, the Coronavirus presents an existential crisis. Many predict it will strain resources while depleting donations that keep organizations operating. The American Heart Association described it well in a message to their supporters that asked them to contact lawmakers.
“While we are anticipating a huge surge in need during the coronavirus response, we expect private donations to drop significantly—as they have in past economic downturns,” the organization said. “We need help from Congress so charities don’t become a casualty of the coronavirus.”
The stimulus bill brought some relief, including provisions to make nonprofits eligible for federal loans, which could one day be forgiven; expand charitable deductions for taxpayers; and provide several other initiatives that could help nonprofits, according to the Journal of Philanthropy. (Here’s an analysis from the National Council of Nonprofits, created after Senate passage.)
Yet the need for advocacy did not end with passage of the stimulus bill. Nonprofits should continue running advocacy campaigns, both to secure resources from the government and as a strategy to engage donors as the economic clouds get darker. Now more than ever, it is critical for nonprofits to develop new and innovative digital strategies to connect with their audiences.
Advocacy carried on after passage of the stimulus bill. State lawmakers are passing bills, new federal legislation will assuredly surface, and nonprofit fundraising cannot stop. For nonprofit advocacy professionals, there is a lot of work to be done.
Cutting Through the Noise
Without the ability to lobby in person or conduct fly-ins, nonprofits turned to digital advocacy to carry their message, helping to fuel an advocacy boom in recent days. Engagement has exploded, with nearly 1 million advocates sending almost 2.4 million messages to Congress the week of March 16.
Yet all that engagement has a downside. Advocates are being inundated with COVID-19 related emails from an array of organizations. . Smart nonprofits are staying ahead of the curve by developing strategies to move beyond email.
- Text Messaging. Text messaging is far more effective than email when it comes to engagement. With a 99-percent open rate, and double-digit click-through and conversion rates, texting is the powerhouse of advocacy. Advocates opt in, so they want to connect with your organization, and they can take action from anywhere by clicking SMS shortcodes or using custom keywords (e.g. Text INFO to 52886). Many of the nonprofits that have been most effective advocating during the coronavirus crisis have used text campaigns.
- Story Sharing. Nothing is more powerful than personal stories when it comes to promoting engagement. People relate to stories told by other people, and this is an area of strength for healthcare nonprofits. Where you can, ask your constituents to tell their own stories about how this pandemic has impacted them, whether they are patients, caregivers or others dedicated to your mission.
- Virtual Events. A Virtual Lobby Day or Digital Day of Advocacy in which you train your advocates on a specific task at the same time, can also be extremely effective. The Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) did exactly that March 26 when it asked supporters in Minnesota to thank their lawmakers for convening a session March 26 to address issues relating to COVID-19.
Like other healthcare nonprofits, AIM is advocating for a population whose voices need to be elevated in a crisis like this. More than 99,000 Minnesota residents live with Alzheimers and they are served by more than 275,000 caregivers. Like many with health problems, these patients and caregivers cannot practice social distancing. Patient care requires close contact. Despite limitations, many of them can get active on behalf of AIM and the Alzheimer’s Association. As AIM told supporters, “We may not be able to be at the Capitol, but we can still have our voices heard!”
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