Have you ever thought about the value of your alumni, faculty, and staff in regards to advocacy? When assigning value to each of these groups, do you do so based on what they can do for you, or can you translate their value into action items? Its possible that you never really thought about advocates having “value” before, but each member of your advocacy network has value in the way that they promote your institution or engage in the issues. Focusing on value will enable you to take actions that promote advocate value while promoting your institution. Here are three ways that value and advocacy can intersect.
Market Your Recent Graduates by Legislative District
This is such an obvious action that we are shocked it often isn’t used. The state provides a budget to your school for educating students, you spend it, and at the end of a period of time, students complete their course work and (hopefully) go on to get jobs. If you have an advocacy system you can load your graduates into the database and relate their address to their legislators you can get a list of recent graduates by legislative district. If you have the right kind of advocacy system, you have tools that let you email the lists of recent graduates to the state legislators, letting them know that they now have new graduates in their districts all thanks to their great work on behalf of your school. Without a top notch advocacy system, this effort is very time consuming as you would have to create the lists of graduates by district through other means then paste the lists into separate emails for each legislator which is a nightmare to keep straight, which is why most schools don’t do it. But if you can market your recent graduates, you are sending a positive message to your legislators, reinforcing that if they do their job in listening to your needs, your employer can do the job of educating and training for the workforce.
Segment the Alumni, Faculty, and Staff Via Interest and Connections
You have a wonderful resource in the alumni, faculty and staff when it comes to advocating for your school. When you consider the sheer number of these people at a state university it seems that you have this massive army of people who will speak out for your school. Unfortunately, reality does take over when you start to engage people and you will quickly learn that large lists of people will not all follow your lead. You need to cultivate people who are more interested and will respond when you need them. This is the great equalizer for large and small schools, in that if you can cultivate a group of 500 active advocates, you can often be more effective than an organization that claims an audience of 100,000. When it comes to advocacy, quality and connections trump volume because you are more likely to reach legislations with people who are connected to them than sending mass emails. What works best is an invitation loop, where the advocacy manager can send an invitation to join the advocacy network. In the invitation, you explain the purpose and value of the network. You can also explain that the network tools will ask them to add in which legislators they may know at the capitol and how they know them, as well as what they might be willing to do as an advocate such as make phone calls, testify at hearings etc. With the invitation loop, you store the responses in your advocacy system, and you will create two new segments for each legislative district. One is all the people in the district who joined the network. These are people who said they want to help. The second segment is those people from across the state, not necessarily in the legislator’s district, who know the legislator. These people have a more direct connection with a legislator. Depending on their relationship, these people enable you to be more strategic in how you choose to reach legislators. The invitation loop should be re-sent periodically to pick up people who had not previously responded and build up the network of more interested people. Over a short period of time, you are no longer advocating with warm bodies but have increased the value of your advocates by their interest in advocacy and by who they know.
Advocate for good work as well as problems
Once you have the fire power in place with your advocates, think about advocating when the legislators do something good as well as when there is an issue you want to react to. When a bill is passed that has positive impact on the university, ask your advocates to send a thank you notice to their legislator. It’s a small effort, but it establishes that your school has a body of people who are paying attention and that they appreciate the work that is done on their behalf. By the same token, if legislators hear from your advocates when something is good, they are more likely to read their emails when something is a problem and you have asked them to advocate in support of a position. Effective advocacy creates a presence amongst lawmakers, so that when the advocates speak up, the first inclination of a legislator is to listen. If you do not cultivate that presence with some positive input, only using it for problems, then, over time, your message may be deleted before it is heard.
Your advocacy software helps you define the value of your advocacy network. If your advocacy tools do not let you nurture and segment your advocates, then the value is less because you are missing information that makes you smarter. Be sure to ask how your advocacy software can help you gather information, and engage supporters. And from your desk, think a bit about what type of presence you want your advocates to have at the capitol and work you advocacy process toward that goal.