Technology has made life easier for lobbyists that run grassroots campaigns. With advocacy tools, its easy to gather large lists of advocate’s email addresses that you can mobilize and call to action. And because emails are instantaneous, people can answer your call to action right away by calling or emailing their legislators. Perhaps you have a text message based advocacy system that enables advocates to opt in and be engaged by you via their cell phones which, once again, gives you instant access to your advocacy support network. Failsafe, right? Now advocacy managers have a new problem. The problem is no longer about how to reach your audience, it is getting people to respond to your action alert.
Let’s start with a pretty basic premise as to why it might be difficult to get people to respond to advocacy alerts. Consider the direct mail axiom which says that when you mass communicate to a large audience, you can expect a response of 1 to 3%. Marketers that utilize direct mail use this formula all the time. If I mail out 100,000 pieces I can expect response from about 1000 to 3000 recipients. A response rate below 1% indicates the message was unsuccessful while a response rate above 3% indicates the message was timely and your audience was primed. Direct mailers spend lots of time and money taking unknown lists, massaging them with additional data, developing a profile of their respondents with demographics, and trying to be smart about who they send things to in order to raise the response rate. So why don’t we apply these principals to the grassroots advocacy arena?
There are several reasons. First, a grassroots effort is usually being done by an association, a university, or non-profit organization where the advocates are somehow connected to the organization. An association uses members to advocate, a university uses its alumni and staff, and a non-profit might use members or volunteers. The respondents are already connected and have shown interest in the organization. If this is the case, why isn’t the response rate for a typical advocacy alert closer to 90 or 100%?
This is the tricky part to understand, but our experience is that the response rate is tied to the frequency of contact. As an advocacy manager for an organization, if you believe that your supporters are waiting to be called on, you are probably mistaken. The best response usually comes from cultivating members by providing them frequent information on the issues and asking them to be a part of your network for alerts. Frequent information can be as simple as emails with updates to what happens at the capitol year round. Politics may appear to take time off when the legislature is not in session, but we all know they are working, forming the agenda for the next session. An audience that is updated and engaged is much more likely to respond to your call to action.
Building your audience is just as important as keeping them updated. Advocacy managers must constantly find new advocates to add to their army. It’s a numbers game. If you know you are going to get a response rate of 25%, the only way to increase your impact is to add more people to your base. Asking people to join your advocacy network is one way to build an army of people that are likely to respond to your advocacy alerts. If you cultivate an interest in the issues facing your organization with frequent information you have the opportunity to engage people. How can you figure out your advocate’s hot button issues when there is only one way communication via email? Invite them to tell you what their hot buttons are when they join your network so you can develop lists of people around topics that will respond when you need them.
Some of the better advocacy technology solutions come with the ability to invite people, ask them what their hot issues are, ask them who their contacts are at your state capitol or at the US capitol, and essentially have them STEP FORWARD to indicate they want to be a part of your solution. The idea of building your network instead of assuming your network is there for you is one of the better advancements that grassroots technology has made in the past 20 years. You do not need 10,000 people to jump on an issue any more. 50 or 100 people, who are interested and who will act when you need them to have shown they can make more noise than 1% of 10,000 advocates can.