Constituent communication with legislators and regulatory bodies remains the most effective advocacy tool for people and organizations looking to shift public policy. However, the rise of “grassroots advocacy” in the last decade as a niche industry has diluted the impact of these connections, sowing distrust among decision-makers and creating a more challenging space for influence.
These four tips can help your organization deliver communication that matters to decision-makers.
Start every advocacy program by comprehensively mapping out relevant thought leaders, stakeholders and stakeholder groups, their relationships with targeted decision-makers and any history of participation and/or influence on similar issues. If your organization is membership-based, survey members to determine their relationships with decision-makers, as well as those of their respective companies, colleagues, etc. It is not uncommon to be unaware of personal and professional connections that exist within your own organizations and networks.
Once you have developed a database of relevant connections, prioritize these people and groups as the first line of direct communication with decision-makers on your issue.
Quality Over Quantity
Delivering a high volume of communication to legislators on your issue can be effective. However, unless you can sustain a relatively significant number of emails or letters every week for multiple weeks or months, it is important that there be a mix of both (thoughtful) individualized and template emails/letters for any real impact to occur as a result. Sending a few hundred form emails is typically no longer sufficient and can make legislators skeptical of the effort’s legitimacy.
The same applies for other forms of mass communication, for example patch through calls and online petitions. Unless you have 5,000 people signing a petition who live in the official’s district or these tactics are coupled with personalized communication that speaks articulately to the issue, they may be considered inauthentic and forgotten or ignored.
Rarely do policy issues for which there is some division, debate or controversy materialize overnight. More often, companies, organizations and activists are speculating on and/or anticipating the need for action months, if not years, in advance.
No matter the issue, it is never too early to begin identifying impacted constituencies and educating/engaging potential advocates. Meaningful relationships, trust and education take time. Rather than scrambling to explain complex issues and begging for last-minute engagement – or spending money on costly paid communications – it is less stressful, less costly and more impactful to begin efforts well in advance of any needed action. Educated and trained coalitions are tremendously more effective than piecemeal outreach.
Policy issues are often nuanced, in particular when they relate to local regulatory issues. We have often heard from decision-makers that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish from which side of a debate someone is advocating in a letter, email, letter to the editor, etc. Your approach and message should clearly differentiate your point of view from that of your opposition. Finally, be sure your advocates are well-educated and aware of the primary points and issues that should be made in any communication on the issue.