Around this time in the election cycle, with 103 days before the Iowa Caucuses, people start talking about rapid response. Candidates need it to answer each other’s claims and accusations. Advocacy organizations need it for exactly the same reason.
Rapid response is crucial as we enter the thick of the political season precisely because so many presidential and congressional campaigns will be making so many claims. On immigration, gun control, healthcare, college tuition and many more issues, candidates will be saying what they think. Sometimes, your organization will want—and in some cases, need—to talk back.
Sure, you can put out a statement, run it through your social media channels and hope it gets picked up. But it is far more powerful to summon an army of passionate constituents and let them do the talking with a torrent of calls, emails and social posts. To be truly effective, you need response capabilities that can energize supporters and produce high-impact communication. And you need it on command.
The Case for Rapid Response
There are few better cases for rapid response than the story of the Special Olympics, 50-year-old organization that faced a major test during the 2019 budget process.
In March, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos defended the decision to cut $18 million in funding from Special Olympics school programs at a hearing on Capitol Hill. The organization responded fast, launching a campaign and website within hours that was designed to get supporters to contact their elected officials. Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver delivered a video statement to energize the effort.
Across all channels, the Special Olympics reached more than 22 million people with their campaign and the results were dramatic. Constituents sent more than 43,000 email messages, roughly 900 tweets and made 196 phone calls to lawmakers—all in about 24 hours.
The message was sent by supporters and received by Congress and the administration. President Donald Trump himself addressed the issue, telling reporters one day after the campaign started that, “the Special Olympics will be funded.”
In a wise move, officials at the Special Olympics were quick to thank the president, and their supporters. “We are so grateful for the outpouring of support from Special Olympics athletes, young people, and the community at large,” the organization said in a statement.
For his part, Trump later underlined his support for the organization in a tweet in May: “Today, I officially updated my budget to include $18 million for our GREAT @SpecialOlympics, whose athletes inspire us and make our Nation so PROUD!”
Why Silence Can Be Deadly
The Special Olympics example is a good one because the organization responded quickly and decisively, their supporters took action and they saw results. Had they done anything less, had they waited or perhaps remained silent, the outcome could have been different.
That’s the primary point about rapid response. In a political landscape where shared truth is increasingly rare, an argument left unchallenged is likely to be taken as fact. An action left unchallenged can be costly. If you cannot advance your organization’s point of view quickly and with strength, then you are going to lose ground on the issues that matter.
Smart organizations will evaluate their rapid response capabilities before next year’s election. If you have a system, tune it up. If you don’t, then build one. It involves work on your organization’s priorities, messaging, audience development and communications technology. But, as so many organizations in Washington prove every day, it can be done and done well, even without a massive budget.
This is important work. Without the ability to mobilize and respond, no organization can communicate with a full voice. And without that voice, you are silent.
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