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Managing Advocacy During a Crisis

(originally published in 2020)

Most advocacy professionals have experience dealing with crises. Especially these days, it seems the advocacy world is operating outside of the “normal” rules.

But even this current crisis has tested the most seasoned advocacy and government affairs staff. Keep these tips in mind as you manage your advocacy efforts during this current situation.

  • Get the right people together

  • Identify your audiences

  • Determine your audiences’ needs

  • Track how your audiences respond

  • Be flexible and ready to evolve


It might seem like just another thing you need to do, but take an hour to get your key communications, advocacy, membership staff, and any others who share information with your members and supporters. I recommend inviting junior staff to listen to the conversation so they better understand the context of how decisions are being made.

During this meeting, determine your process for making decisions, sharing information, and informing and involving everyone. This would be a good time to refer to your crisis communication plan. Take notes and share them after the meeting so you can make sure everyone is on the same page. This should be a document you can refer back to and update as you continue to meet.

Another thing you should do that is unique to this crisis is to determine how workflows may change if staff are ill or taking care of sick family members. Hopefully, more than one staff knows how to post on social media or send out a newsletter, but you need to map this out so everyone knows how they can pitch in when needed.


Most organizations have different key audiences with whom you are communicating - or need to communicate with. From internal - staff, board, etc. - to external audiences. Map out your external audiences - literally - on a whiteboard. List your communication channels - which ones do you use for which audiences?

As it relates to advocacy, think about what you need from your audiences right now and in the immediate and near future. This might involve a discussion about legislative targets, story collections, or sustained engagement - or all three. Don’t forget the media and how you want to engage them in your efforts.


Your different audiences have different needs. They need different information, at different times, at various levels, from different spokespeople. Some people you’ll need to communicate more with than others and some you’ll just need to update as needed (like the media or funding partners).

This discussion will also help you craft your key messages. Your key contacts likely need more information than your base. Do they need a webinar to review the CARES Act and what is coming next? Do you need to prep your grassroots for the next stimulus votes? What is going on with your other policy priorities - are they stalled?

Your communication channels will come in handy here. For some things, you’ll need to text your members—quick action on votes, bill passage, etc. For other things, you can use your social channels to communicate, and for longer-form updates, you’ll use your blog or newsletter.


This is not a guessing game. You can track which messages are most relevant to your key audiences. Follow up accordingly. Use the data to determine how best to move forward.

And ask for feedback.

This data will become increasingly valuable after this crisis ends and you evaluate your efforts. You’ll have a lot of new data you can use to craft your strategies moving forward.


That leads us to the last point—this is a very fluid situation, and you must be flexible and ready to evolve your strategy and tactics.

Maybe this week, you need your people to contact their federal legislators to ensure your needs are reflected in the federal stimulus package; next week, you’ll need to track implementation and start reaching out to state and local lawmakers.

Maybe Friday calls for your grasstops and a new slack channel for your emerging grassroots champions could be useful.

This situation has also provided some sectors an opportunity to highlight their key messages and leverage new tactics.

  • For example, public health advocates are able to demonstrate how starving public health systems of key funding is exacerbating the crisis.

  • Housing advocates are using this opportunity to make lasting changes in how communities work together to house people experiencing homelessness. If we can use old motels to house people now, can we continue this after this crisis?

  • Some organizations have started having regular briefings with local, state, and federal legislative staff to update everyone. Can this continue (albeit less frequently) after the pandemic passes?

Of course, after this crisis passes, be sure to reflect, evaluate, and thank your supporters for their support—we know you’ll need them again.


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