A Guide to Strategic Advocacy Part 1: Improve Your Grassroots Advocacy Process

February 5, 2013 by Crescerance

Strategic Advocacy Chalkboard ImageIn this two part series we will explore some ways that grassroots managers can improve their advocacy efforts by looking at the problem of advocacy more strategically. What should you think about as you develop your advocacy plans for an organization? What are the pitfalls to avoid and how can you design a successful strategic advocacy campaign to target the issues that matter?

Your Definition of Advocacy

As a lobbyist for an organization, how you define advocacy drives how you design your advocacy efforts. Many advocacy tools are designed to help one specific definition of advocacy: contact a list of advocates, whether they are association members, university alumni, or organization staff, and have them contact their legislators. On the surface this may seem like an effective advocacy strategy, but ask yourself, is this the definition of advocacy that you have for you organization?  Is this the type of lobbying you actually do?

When you are working on an issue, do you actually try to contact as many legislators as you can to help advance your position? Often, this is not the case. As a professional lobbyist you’re paid to be a bit smarter, to think outside the box, and to use your understanding of the legislative process as well as the relationships you have at the capitol to weave your way through an issue until you can make an impact.

Advocacy, like any art of persuasion, is a more sophisticated process than many of us want to deal with, and that is why so many advocacy efforts appear to fail. However, with a bit of understanding and some planning you can craft an effective advocacy strategy. Here are three key elements to the advocacy process that you can use to make your next advocacy effort more strategic, and in the end, more effective.

Timing is Everything

How often have you received an email that says “Call or email your congressman or state representative and tell them to vote No on this bill?” When you see these emails you probably think that the bill is at the end of the process and this advocacy alert is a last-ditch effort to try and influence the final step of the legislative process. However, as a lobbyist, you probably already know how this will go. By the time a bill has come to a vote, in many cases, the legislature knows which way it will vote. Your elected officials rarely walk into the chambers with their minds ready to be influenced up until the very last minute on which way to vote. So the idea of a last ditch effort to persuade someone on the day of or the day before a vote is not necessarily the best approach. Timing is everything, so try to hit legislators when they can actually be influenced.

Know the Legislative Process

Legislation goes through a process in all cases, whether at the state or federal level. Bills are introduced in one chamber, read, and assigned to committee, and then reviewed, released, or held by committees. Then in many states they cross over to the other chamber where they are again reviewed, released, or held. If they are released by the second chamber, they can go back to the first with changes, and so on. The key here is that there is a legislative cycle with many touch points by many legislators. A strategic advocacy approach will take advantage of the touch points, trying to ensure that language or positions are heard by each legislator along the way. An advocacy system that can help reach out to a committee during these review cycles can be much more effective than the larger “public support” concept.

Focus On the Best Way to Achieve Your Results

There is no question that advocacy is a tricky process. It can be a challenge to know your audience, both at the capitol and in your organization, and how best to approach each on your immediate issues. Sometimes the best approach may be stirring up all of your audience to reach out to all their legislators and send them a message. Other times, it may be better for a focused group of people to reach out to a select committee to help them shape the issue. Maybe a few phone calls from a short list of advocates that have relationships with legislators will help orient the thinking as you want. Make sure your approach fits with the task at hand. Advocacy is not one size fits all, and you should always have options.

After all this thinking, are you beginning to ask why you invested in advocacy software in the first place? In part two of this Strategic Advocacy blog post, we will talk about how new technology can help your strategic approach to making your organization heard at the capitol.