Guest blogger Glen Justice is the Managing Editor for Marketing at CQ Roll Call. A journalist for 25 years, he now writes for association and advocacy professionals on the Connectivity blog.
Here’s a statistic that may not surprise you: fully 77 percent of advocacy professionals say their program relies on email to reach their members, according to a survey by CQ Roll Call.
But here are some stats that might: 59 percent of those same professionals say they are only somewhat confident that they can get members to act when needed, and 17 percent said they were not very confident at all. Ten people checked a box saying it was a “roll of the dice.”
In a world in which the noise is ever increasing, alongside the demands on everyone’s time, savvy organizations should be constantly experimenting with new ways to engage their membership in order to keep advocacy sharp. A good strategy is constantly evolving, and part of that evolution is growing new channels.
Nobody is knocking email. It’s still the dominant form of communication in Washington advocacy, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Time spent growing your sophistication in that arena is time well spent.
But in the course of conducting a score of interviews for CQ Roll Call’s latest special report, “Increasing Engagement: How to Keep Members Active When Your Issues Aren’t Hot,” I came across many organizations that have grown entirely new and successful channels riding alongside a robust email program in the journey to getting members engaged in advocacy.
For example, the Association of Public Television Stations has a regular teleconference, in which it invites employees and board members from member stations to hear speakers such as documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and journalist Judy Woodruff (I was flattered to be invited as a guest myself, but hardly the same caliber as their regular fare!). The American Management Association has an impressive webinar program, with a dedicated team that produces both free and paid events regularly.
Then there’s the YMCA, which has not forgotten that people can interact in the physical world - and not just once a year at an annual conference. The organization has roughly 2,700 facilities nationwide, and all are encouraged to host visits from school board members, city council members, state reps, members of Congress or anyone else who might be helpful in the organization’s advocacy efforts.
“We very purposefully talk to the Ys about the advantages of building those relationships, even when there’s not a fire in the kitchen,” said Neal Denton Sr., a senior vice president and chief government affairs officer.
The mission is to communicate that the YMCA is less a “gym and swim” than it is a community organization, providing everything from daycare and summer camps to food programs. To do this, it encourages local Ys to bring in officials of all stripes to interact with the kids, participate in a food program or take part in other events. The YMCA has set up a 20-page toolkit, complete with sample letters, press releases and tips that help local chapters organize these meetings.
This is smart, because it builds on one of the organization’s major strengths: an active presence in local communities. It also gets staff and volunteers at all levels involved in advocacy efforts. As Denton put it, “This is not rocket science. It’s the same process you use when you bring in a new board member or a new donor.”
What’s the answer for your organization? The truth is that it is whatever resonates with your members. To find that out, you have to try new things, refine them and allow them to grow. That growth becomes evolution as your program matures into a multi-channel advocacy machine, capable of reaching many different supporters in many different ways.