I refer to big political years like 2020 as the “Super Bowl of our industry.” This is our time to shine. All the time, effort, engagement, plans, talking points, strategy, and tweets we have poured our energy into will (hopefully) pay off in 2020.
But it can seem totally overwhelming. There are thousands of elections in 2020 – from city, state, and federal; to county, school boards, and park boards; to PRESIDENT! AHHHH!
How can your organization break through these big-money competitions? How can you get your issues front and center? How do you get your members to step-up and get engaged in your advocacy efforts?
As 2020 approaches, organizations that take note of these advocacy trends will successfully engage their supporters, capture lawmakers’ attention, and have big policy wins.
Big and small data
Organizations that listen to how their members and supporters want to be engaged will have winning campaigns. Advocate-centered campaigns will capture the attention of lawmakers – and strengthen your organization for years to come.
But the first step is to understand who your audience is.
I work with many health care organizations and begin by asking, “who are your advocates? Who is your target audience?” Most of the time, they start rattling off large groups of people: providers, staff, patients, their families, the community, lawmakers, oh my!
Yes, they may ALL be your target audiences at some point, but who is your audience for this campaign? Who do you NEED to engage to be successful? Who is at the center of your campaign?
Once you properly identify your advocate audiences, pay attention to how they want to be engaged. And then develop advocate ladders so you can grow and increase their engagement over time.
Some advocates will jump at the chance to participate in a lobby day. But most will start by signing a petition or writing their lawmakers an email. How are you moving your advocates up the engagement ladder? This relies on collecting data on your advocates – and using it.
BIG AND SMALL DATA
Effectively using data has been trending for many years now. Organizations that track their advocates’ activity – and know how to use this information - will have a leg-up on their campaigns.
Not only will these organizations thoroughly understand their advocates’ strengths and weaknesses (“we don’t have much ground cover in district 18 so we need to build it” and “let’s turn our grassroots on in district 18 to switch that vote”), they will be able to use this information to fundraise.
According to Classy (a fundraising platform), “Many nonprofits saw a surge in recurring subscription initiations following the 2016 election, particularly civil rights, social action, and advocacy organizations.”
Further, as they analyzed their fundraising data, Classy noted that donors who first gave during an election cycle were 50% more likely to give again.
If you are not collecting, tracking, and leveraging your advocate’s data, you won’t be able to ask them to donate to support your critical mission.
Storytelling has been gaining the attention of many industries recently – business, retail, nonprofit, etc. And while many advocacy and policy organizations focus on creating white papers, policy papers, fact sheets, and other information to make their case - compelling storytelling can inspire people to take action and join your cause.
Connecting your policy priorities to how they impact people’s lives can not only help you grow your influence, it will also help lawmakers remember why your policy advocacy is important. Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner suggests that people are 22 times more likely to remember facts when presented in a story than when presented alone.
And this makes sense. Lawmakers hear facts and figures every day. They are presented with charts, graphs, and one-pages all day long. But when it comes time to make a decision about a piece of legislation, your advocates’ stories will be what they remember. These stories can move them to vote with you – and may even inspire them to become a champion for your issue.
I predict we will see bigger and stronger coalitions as organizations and sectors tackle our most challenging social problems.
As I reflect, I cannot think of a recent winning campaign that did not engage a broad coalition of organizations and interests. Organizations that partner with other organizations that share a common goal are more likely to win. A broad coalition demonstrates that your issue is important to a broad constituency.
A great example is the restriction on smoking in public places over the past decade. Had only the American Cancer Society championed this issue, it might not have been as successful. A broad coalition of public health, patients, disease-specific organizations, health care providers, business owners, and bar/restaurant employees banned together to demonstrate that smoking bans are good for our health – and business.
When it comes to legislative change, organizations that try to stand on their own are waging a tough battle - and risk being seen as a single-issue campaign with only a few people’s interests in mind.
Innovation continues to be on-trend. Organizations that develop creative, innovative campaigns that push the envelope will see more policy success in 2020 than those tired, predictable campaigns.
By now, lawmakers and their staff have seen it all. You need to do something to stand out and get your message heard.
Don’t take this as doing something gimmicky – although that may work too. But tap into the emotion of WHY this work is so important. Why is access to mental health care services critical for young people? What happens when LGBTQ kids are subjected to conversion therapy?
To be innovative, you also need to be flexible and be able to try new things. They may not all succeed, but you’ll find the gems that will and build off of those.
2020 is going to be NOISY! I can barely hear anything already. Organizations that are able to get their message heard will be the most successful. This means building innovative campaigns that create strong advocates, who are equipt with the tools to share your message, and have a consistent drumbeat so your message is remembered when it matters.