Meredith Whipple, the digital content manager at Public Knowledge, has watched her organization’s advocacy program transform over time. One major catalyst was the move to professional advocacy software.
“In the beginning, we did a lot of it manually,” she said, describing lists spread across systems, activity tracked in spreadsheets and a hard-coded button on the website directing advocates to call Congress. “We couldn’t even see how many people were calling,” she said. “It wasn’t a good way to keep track of our audience.”
Whipple’s experience is common enough in Washington, but today she describes a very different picture. “It’s been about a year and a half with Phone2Action, which has grown our list, kept it a lot more organized and put things in one place. It provides me a lot more data that I can use to show the people here how effective our work is.”
Whipple described the change in our latest webinar, The Case for Professional Advocacy Software, where she was joined on the panel by Kimberly McCabe, senior director of digital strategy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Russ Fagaly, the West Coast vice president and general manager at Phone2Action, who has 15 years of experience in digital advocacy.
Together, the three dissected what modern systems provide and the impact they can have on effective advocacy.
The Right Metrics
One common experience is that the upgrade to professional advocacy software often comes with better metrics, which improves many aspects of an advocacy program.
“It’s really important,” Fagaly said. “If you are the type of organization that works in different geographies or on different types of issues, you might need a way to bring together all of your activity and analysis…metrics are a way you can harmonize the discussion.”
But getting those metrics requires a system capable of synthesizing data and presenting it in a usable format. As Fagaly put it, “The broad question is, do the tools you use currently provide the numbers and metrics that matter to the program you are running and matter to the organization as a whole.”
Whipple said she saw a big change with the advent of better activity metrics, and not just internally. “We work in several different coalitions on several different issues, a lot of big grassroots groups with lots of people on staff,” she said. “We are not a big organization. We are not a grassroots group. And, to be blunt, we just weren’t really being taken seriously without having an organized system to manage our advocacy.”
The ability to report activity and share information made it easier to work with other organizations, Whipple said. “It really shows how important it is to have this advocacy software, to keep things organized, to be able to present those metrics, to be able to be part of the conversation with these grassroots groups,” she said. “It really builds the brand of the organization.”
The Right Support
Another important element the panel discussed was ease of use and customer support. As McCabe noted, turnover is a part of life in every organization. She has had three new people join her team during her tenure at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
“It’s important for me to have a system that is intuitive,” she said. “If you are in the system and you are clicking around and nothing makes sense, you’re just not inclined to use the software. I didn’t want anyone to encounter that. I needed something that my advocacy team was willing to adopt.”
McCabe also described what she called “non-negotiable” items, features like the ability to embed forms, metrics for the government affairs team and really good customer support.
“I get a request to setup an advocacy campaign and I have two hours to do it,” she said. “I need to have some resources, in this case at Phone2Action, that I can get ahold of really quickly and I know that they are going to provide me with a high level of support. Think about those types of things when you are considering a platform.”
Of course, new capabilities to engage advocates is also something that many experts look for when they transition to a new system. “I encourage folks to think about what actions and asks you can bring to your audience that you haven’t done before,” Fagaly, who has worked at organizations like FWD.us, NextGen America and Blue State Digital, said.
In Whipple’s case, she used text messaging, which can have a huge impact on open rates and conversion, despite some reservations. Public Knowledge advocates on technology policy, including privacy issues. Naturally, many in their audience are privacy conscious.
“I thought nobody would opt into texting,” she said. “I did find that people were really willing to do that. I was really apprehensive to test that stuff—and I’m really glad I did.”
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