How does your organization define success when it comes to advocacy?
Is it the number of new advocates on your list this year? The number who reliably take action? Or perhaps it’s the bills and regs you helped to pass or defeat. Any would be a defensible answer. But you might be surprised to learn that none were the metric cited most often when we asked advocacy professionals how they gauge success.
The top choice was the number of messages sent from advocates to lawmakers and other decision makers. One third of those who responded to our question (36 percent) said advocacy communiques were their guidestar.
The question and the answer make a point: advocacy professionals don’t often get a good view of how their colleagues think and the experience they are having. That’s why we created the 2019 Advocacy Survey, asking advocacy professionals about strategy, tactics, performance, challenges, needs and many other topics. The goal was to enable advocacy pros to benchmark across fields and learn from one another.
What Do Advocacy Pros Think?
Phone2Action powers hundreds of advocacy programs that will collectively send roughly 30 million communiques to lawmakers and other public officials this year. As such, industry research is important to us. We want to understand the experience organizations are having, what works and what doesn’t.
In the summer, we launched the 2019 State of Advocacy report, which used data from thousands of campaigns to gain insight into those questions. It contains concrete information on how organizations practice their craft, from the growth in regulatory advocacy to the mounting interest in influencing local governments.
The 2019 Advocacy Survey takes a different approach: it shows what advocacy professionals think about their program and their profession. The survey covers their experience with audience response and engagement; which tools and tactics they use most; the biggest challenges they face; and where they need the most help. If you run a program, you know the answer to these questions in your organization. Hearing how others answer these questions—and how your organization compares—can be useful.
An Industry in Transition
Overall, the survey sketches a portrait of an industry that is focused on growing influence, improving engagement with advocates and connecting more solidly with decision makers. Yet it also shows that many advocacy programs are still dependent to a large degree on older tools and tactics.
For example, two thirds of advocacy professionals (66 percent) said they need the most help recruiting supporters and growing their audience. It was by far the number-one response. Yet email, a medium we all know is saturated, ranked highest (95 percent) as the tool they rely on most. Meanwhile, other tools with a better record of helping organizations recruit advocates were embraced far less often.
Of course, there were the standard complaints about a lack of resources, such as staffing and budget. But there were also some more nuanced concerns. For example, advocacy professionals worry that they are not communicating the value of their program adequately. One in three (34 percent) say its is hard to communicate that value and almost 45 percent say it’s an area where they could use help.
There were also some surprises in the survey. For example, we asked about the impact of political polarization on advocacy and, perhaps predictably, more than half of the respondents (52 percent) said it made advocacy more difficult. But we were a bit startled to see that 26 percent said it made no difference—and that 21 percent said it actually made advocacy easier!
That too makes a point. The common wisdom is not always right, whether we are talking about the action in Washington or in the state capitals. It’s always best to do some research and get answers from the source. The survey is not a scientific poll, but it gives us some insight into the experience that advocacy organizations are having as we head into a major election year. Download a copy and give it a read. We hope you find it helpful.
To hear our panel of experts discuss the survey results, download the 2019 Advocacy Survey webinar.
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