The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced an interesting dynamic to advocacy programs: while our physical interaction with one another might be at unprecedented lows, our digital interaction has never been higher.
Engagement between associations and their supporters increased 10-fold in the month after the COVID-19 crisis broke, according to Phone2Action’s State of Advocacy data. Overall, an average of 52,000 people took action every day—36 people every minute—between March 13 and April 23. Some call it The COVID Effect.
The National Restaurant Association, for example, saw members and supporters generate roughly 400,000 communications with Congress. Organizations representing emergency doctors, nurses, pharmaceuticals and other healthcare professions have seen a similar boom in activity.
The pandemic has revealed how interconnected associations are the fabric of our society, highlighting the value they provide members and illustrating how members impact the broader public. Normally, associations and member-based organizations take a reserved approach to advocacy. Message volume isn’t always as important as showing value to members, and public affairs sometimes defers to government relations when it comes to advancing or defending industry policies.
However, the pandemic changed the game.
A New Base of Support
Associations that normally have low or seasonal advocate engagement are seeing explosive growth.
For example, the United Motorcoach Association, which represents smaller motorcoach owners/operators and industry suppliers, has traditionally run a classic grassroots member-engagement program. They targeted industry-specific reauthorization bills and engaged members whenever there was specific legislation or regulation that impacted their industry.
This traditional approach worked for UMA, but it did not always show the depth of their support. Then, the pandemic hit. In less than three days, UMA’s member and supporter engagement grew 30-fold. The pandemic highlighted the revelation that many people in America support or rely on the motorcoach industry beyond their official membership. The UMA campaigns during the COVID-19 crisis revealed that base of silent supporters.
They are not alone. The Michigan Farm Bureau launched a pair of campaigns that mobilized more than 50,000 new advocates in less that four days. The Michigan Farm Bureau promoted its campaigns through various channels, including its Facebook page. Several of its member organizations shared the campaigns with their customers, boosting engagement from those, who aren’t necessarily farmers but who nonetheless, were also affected by the pandemic’s impact on farmers. Now, they know they have far more supporters in their state that are willing to stand with them on critical issues.
‘Now is Your Time’
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how interconnected Americans are and how essential associations are in providing a voice for hard-hit sectors. When restaurants and retailers close, transportation slows, manufacturing halts and companies are forced to reduce payrolls, it impacts every single one of us.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that hundreds of thousands of individuals have grown active in recent weeks, supporting the organizations that represent these critical industries. This is most evident in healthcare, which is rightly receiving most of the attention. But it is evident in industries you may not think about as well.
For example, hotel closures affect everyone. When hotels close and owners are forced to make painful cost-cutting decisions, it impacts local employment, vendors, suppliers and many others in the community. Yet associations representing the hospitality industry are there to mobilize members and tell that story. The Asian American Hotel Owners Association, for example, mobilized more than 7,000 advocates across multiple campaigns in recent weeks.
For many associations, now is a very important time. What you do in the coming days and weeks could impact the future of your advocacy program for years. Associations are finding support they never knew they had, seeing massive growth in their lists, and experiencing unprecedented engagement from members who need real help in this crisis. Work hard to represent those members and give them a voice, and remember, you may have even more undiscovered allies willing to advocate on your behalf.
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