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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Good luck with your campaign. Please contact us for more firepower.
Crossbow Communications is one of the leading public relations and public affairs firms in the United States. We have influenced public opinion and public policy around the world for more than 30 years. Today, we are tackling some of the most urgent issues of our time, including vital health and environmental challenges. Our offices are in Denver, Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona.