Tips and Tools For Better Advocacy Campaigns

Public Opinion Can Shape Public Policy

Grassroots movements continue changing the world. It’s a dynamic that needs to gain momentum now more than ever. It’s up to citizens and nonprofit organizations to purge threats to democracy and people.

Colorado public school reform

Most nonprofit organizations could boost their impact with more aggressive advocacy campaigns. Much of the sector should shift from crisis response to problem prevention. They must build awareness, understanding and support from all stakeholder groups to build support for reform.

The power to share information and engage stakeholders has never been greater, but most organizations aren’t making the most of opportunities. These failures are costly. To help you avoid missed opportunities, here is a quick checklist of strategies and tactics that can help organize and optimize most campaigns.

Navajo protest uranium mines

Internal Communication 

All advocacy campaigns begin internally. Notify, educate, motivate and empower your support structure first. Members, customers, employees, allies and others will help you start the parade and they can serve as spokespeople, recruiters, donors, volunteers and more. They will play instrumental roles of disseminating information and opinions via social media. Segment out these groups as much as possible for tailored messages.

Advocacy and Lobbying

Lobbying is when an organization tries to influence the outcome for proposed legislation through communications with legislators and their staff. All lobbying is advocacy, but not all advocacy is lobbying. Nonprofits can hire lobbyists and use staff for lobbying, but it’s important to know the rules to protect your campaign and the policymakers from violating procedural rules.

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Legislator engagement and education can be different than lobbying, especially when the legislature is out of session. It’s important to build awareness, understanding and support for your issues outside of the legislative process. Be sure to target newly elected legislators, committee chairs, past allies, past foes and others who can hurt or help your cause. The pursuit of common ground can yield important alliances and neutralize the most challenging adversaries.

Elected officials respond best to messages from people they know well and from the people they represent, their constituents. While your top level (grass tops) advocates are talking with many different elected officials, support those efforts with you front line (grassroots) supporters should be mobilized and directed to the elected officials that represent their districts.

VA hospital scandal

Public Opinion

Public opinion still influences most public policy, but the battle for the hearts and minds of citizens, communities and leaders is fierce. Plus, people are being bombarded with issues at an accelerating rate, so gaining attention and keeping audiences engaged long enough to act is part of the challenge.

Every issue is different, which means that every public relations campaign is different. However, the assessment and planning process is fairly standard. The following checklist is a simple overview of our process at Crossbow.

Stakeholder Research and Segmentation. Start a list of all groups that share a stake in the issue and the outcome. Build and buy lists with current contact information. Make sure that you can segment that list based on a variety of factors to help you send custom messages to each group as appropriate. Learn as much as possible about each group and each contact.

Competitive Research. Who stands in your way and why? What can you do to overcome their objections? What can be done to neutralize their voice?

Identify & Recruit Existing Allies. Recruit the strongest supporters first. Use that momentum to keep recruiting other key individuals and organizations.

Coalition Development. Do you form a coalition or just have supporters, members and endorsements to represent your position? Coalitions can help the movement position itself and the adversary in a strategic light. The coalition name can serve as a statement itself. A coalition also can help deflect attention away from individual supporters or allies.

Campaign Strategy and Plan. establish a clear and measurable goal. Draw up the action plan that can reach that goal. Include a timeline and budget.

Message Development. Who needs to hear what? Can we segment our lists/mediums and customize messages accordingly? What are the top three points that we must convey? What objections must be overcome? What action do we want people to make?

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Community Engagement and Education. Who are the major stakeholder groups? Who are the local leaders and influencers? What are their goals and concerns?

Community engagement can broaden understanding of the issues and increase people’s willingness to give their time and money to support your cause. It also can activate clients that directly benefit from nonprofit services.

Channel Development and Management. Build your audiences and networks on social media. Build your email lists. Encourage people to subscribe to your RSS feed.

Earned Media. Earning media coverage is one of the most powerful tactics available.It’s credible, it’s influential and it can become viral. Pitch journalists and reporters to write features. Send out media releases to consumer and trade mediums. Offer expert lists and media kits, fact sheets, b-roll, photos and other resources necessary to tell the story from your perspective. Write letters to the editor and comment online in response to related news coverage. Use these opportunities to expand the conversation or focus it as appropriate.

Social Media. Have your advocates create and share videos telling why your issue is important to them. Upload it to YouTube, share it on social media, and embed it in your landing page or website. The organization’s leaders can do this as well for educational purposes. Start off by using social media to educate and expand your networks. As a bill moves through the legislature, for example, your social media should move from educating and organizing to mobilization with specific calls to action. Remind people to share and spread the message to friends and their networks.

Develop Spokespeople. Who are the most influential people in your organization and coalition? Recruit them to serve as official spokespeople. Train different leaders to help you reach specific target markets. Train them to deliver the key messages concisely. Empower them with tools that can help maximize their reach and their impact.

Develop Volunteers. Grassroots campaigns depend on volunteers. They can help with logistics, events, fundraising, social media and so much more.

Petitions. Some petitions are actionable and some are purely symbolic statements. Seek more than signatures during these outreach efforts. Make the action step easy to find and appealing to take. Keep these supporters informed and engaged.

Events and Rallies. Events can help accomplish many objectives. Use them to help build awareness, understanding and support for your cause. Use them to feature your most influential supporters. Use them to recruit new supporters and engage existing ones. Use them to educate citizens, the media and stakeholders at large. Use them to position your supporters as leaders and your opponents as losers. Use them to raise money and generate online buzz.

Web Strategy. Maximize your online visibility and influence. Have an online portal (a microsite specific to the cause) and drive traffic there for more information and engagement. Maximize search engine optimization to help stakeholders and media find you.

Ongoing Email and CRM. Keep stakeholders and supporters informed and engaged. Aggregate all the actions that have happened on your legislative landing page and email it directly to legislators prior to their vote. Send it also to your supporters and let them know that you have sent their actions on to their legislators.  Everyone wants to know the results of their actions and stay informed.

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Good luck with your campaign. Please contact us for more firepower.

public relations firm and public affairs firm Denver and Phoenix

Crossbow is a full-service advertising agency and public relations firm in Denver, Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona. The firm specializes in issue management and public affairs, with an emphasis on healthcare and natural resources. Crossbow has helped influence public opinion and public policy around the world. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com

The Private Battle Over Public Property, Democracy

Corrupt Public Servants Helping Corporations Pillage, Bankrupt Nations

Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United v. FEC decision, which opened the door to corporate donations in federal elections. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people, with the same right to influence politics as voters.

Unfortunately, corporations can’t vote with a ballot, so they vote with cash, influence and obstruction, which blurs the lines of corruption and fascism. In many cases, the corruption eliminates competition, while promoting favoritism. Of course, such deceit undermines and erodes capitalism. It’s my perspective that any assault on democracy or free-market capitalism is terrorism, not citizenship.

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Meanwhile, many of these same neo-corporations have moved their headquarters to small tiny islands to avoid additional regulations and corporate taxes. They want access and influence, even subsidies, without any of those messy responsibilities associated with citizenship.

“We must achieve a free sort of election campaign, not financed,” the Pope told an Argentine magazine this week. “Because many interests come into play in financing of an election campaign and then they ask you to pay back. So, the election campaign should be independent from anyone who may finance it. Perhaps public financing would allow for me, the citizen, to know that I’m financing each candidate with a given amount of money.”

The Pope’s remarks come in the midst of corruption scandals in his native Argentina. Global advocates of campaign finance reform embraced his message.

“We have just gained a great new ally with a worldwide voice for public financing campaigns,” said Fred Wertheimer, founder of Democracy 21. “We greatly appreciate his words and wisdom on this subject.”

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi endorsed the Pope’s “call for an end to the contaminating influence of money in our democracy.”

Shock doctrine and disaster capitalism

Compounding the problem is the fact that the assault on entitlements and public services in many countries goes unchecked as corporate welfare takes nations closer and closer to the verge of bankruptcy. Unfortunately, down is the new up in the world of neo-capitalism.

Crisis capitalism is nothing new. The United States helped pioneer this freak form of economics thanks to Milton Friedman and his disciples at the University of Chicago. Friedman’s handlers within the U.S. government found that with enough pain, people will turn over everything that they own, including their nation, to corporate pillagers. I urge you to explore this background for yourself in a must-read book, The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein. Hopefully, you have read this powerful expose’. If not, it serves as a blueprint for the constant crises that dominate national agendas.

U.S. debt rising

As Klein reveals, the U.S. and corporate interests around the world have helped overthrow many functioning democracies with the use of debt. Shots are rarely fired. This philosophy is coming to a nation near you now. The chart above shows the U.S. debt as an example. If the U.S. defaults, the constitution could be suspended. A so-called bailout might emerge. It will look more like a looting of public and personal property. Take a look at some of the privatization taking place in Detroit as part of its bailout. In the U.S., the postal service and the VA hospitals also are prized takeovers. Look at any bailout of a public entity over the past 150 years and you will see that the pattern is time tested. Chile is a great example. There are many more. In the process, competition is not part of the process. The end game is to create unchecked monopolies around utilities, while pillaging pensions and other assets. I have no problem with privatization in many cases, but competition must remain part of the equation. Otherwise, it’s pure extortion.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to give away public land and land-use permits for pennies to the right corporations. It subsidizes multiple industries. It’s gutting public schools and exploiting public lands for the benefit of private interests. It’s stalling progress on environmental protection and climate change for private profit. Make no mistake about it–the tail is wagging the dog. Citizens are being betrayed. Patriotism is being tested by all sides of the equation in every nation around the world right now. We all have a duty to tune in, stand up and speak out. Demand a return to citizen democracy.

public relations firm and public affairs firm Denver and Phoenix

Crossbow Communications is a full-service advertising agency and public relations firm in Denver, Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona. The firm specializes in issue management and public affairs.