At their most basic level, advocacy organizations exist to move key legislators or decision makers to have a favorable stance on specific issues. They use a number of different strategies and tactics they believe to be effective in achieving this goal. But how would these same legislators and decision makers rate our performance in engaging with them on these issues? Would they validate our engagement process or throw the advocacy world a curveball and say we are missing the mark?
A study conducted by Shana Englin and Stefan Hankin set out to answer these questions. By collaborating with eight nonprofit organizations and surveying nearly 4,000 “activists,” the team determined what methods advocacy teams are using to bring attention to their issues. Simultaneously, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews (IDI’s) with current and former Capitol Hill staffers to see, from the horse’s mouth, what approaches were actually effective. The data showed that there is a disconnect between how the “activists” are speaking and how Hill staffers are listening, hence the “Advocacy Gap.”
Influence Opinions (IO) jumped at the opportunity to host a joint-presentation with Shana to discuss her findings, while IO CEO Elyse Yates took a more micro approach and demonstrated how these findings present opportunities in Texas.
- In-Person Trumps Online: Both legislators and activists believe that offline action is more effective than online action, and yet activists continue to focus their efforts online. Newer means of communication are more convenient, but do not carry the same weight.
- All Politics Are Local: Legislators wants to hear from THEIR constituents, THEIR district, etc. Keep it local.
- Quality Over Quantity: Legislators are sick of mass email campaigns. Constituents should share their story and why specific issues matter to them. Keep it personal.
- Don’t Generalize the Legislature: The Texas Legislature is made up of individuals who manage their staffers differently. Some are more sophisticated than others. What works for one office may not work for another, and vice versa.
As technology and new tools take hold of the advocacy industry, it is important to remember that balancing offline with online is key.
Also, it is important to use social media channels intelligently. Social media is an opportunity to define yourself before your opponents do it for you, not an additional outlet to push meaningless content.
The best example of this is Twitter. More and more Texas legislators are joining Twitter. Some join to share their platform and some join to monitor conversations around key policy issues. Calling out a legislator is never a good idea. If you want to engage these decision makers in a positive way, tweet interesting, relevant information under hashtags that you know they will be watching. By inserting yourself into these discussions, you can gain recognition among your key influencers while proactively building your online reputation.
As Sherri Greenberg, Director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and who served 10 years as a member of the Texas House of Representatives, who was in the audience put it, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The online world will continue to grow and transform, but at the end of the day, our legislators want that handshake or that phone call. The legislators have spoken and now it is our duty, as advocacy organizations, to listen and give them what they want. After all, that is the name of the game, isn’t it?
– Jarred Gammon