The Future of Advocacy: a Q+A

Posted By: FiscalNote

Q+A with Director of Advocacy Communications and Mobilization for the National Association of REALTORS (NAR), Jim MacGregor

The grassroots and grasstops advocacy space is becoming more and more complicated each year with new challenges for organizations to face. How can organizations be prepared for these upcoming trends and manage the issues facing their respective industries? We recently sat down with Jim MacGregor, Director of Advocacy Communications and Mobilization for the National Association of REALTORS, to discuss what individual stakeholders, trade associations and nonprofits, and companies can do to be more successful in this new environment.

FN: Jim, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. To start, how has advocacy changed over the years?

JM: I would say the biggest thing that has changed is the sheer volume of communications that go to lawmakers. What NAR has done really well and continues to do well, and I what I would encourage other organizations to focus on in the coming years, is building relationships. At the state and local level, organizations should mirror the federal level with how to build those key stakeholder relationships. The relationships that your organization maintains are the best way to drive change and manage your legislative and regulatory issues. It’s still important to be able to drive volume on important issues your organization is focusing on, but sheer volume doesn’t have the same impact it used to have.

FN: What are some top trends you’re seeing in the advocacy space?

JM: There is a much bigger push for personalization in messaging at the member level. If you’re sending in 200,000 emails and every single one of them has the same subject line, then your messages have less impact. If you can get your advocates to personalize their messages and really get to the emotion of the issue, then they will receive more focus by lawmakers. There has also been a greater push to focus on mobile advocacy. For NAR and many other organizations, members are constantly on the go. As a result, we’ve built up our mobile infrastructure and strategy to send out alerts by text message. It helps us break through the cluttered email inboxes of our members. We’re also seeing that our members respond very quickly to our texts. Mobile advocacy will continue to be a major trend in the coming years.  Another trend that we see and implement is segmentation. We don’t often send out blanket messaging, or reach out to our entire population. Our messages and the recipients list are segmented to be specific in nature. One size rarely fits all. We believe that spending the extra time to segment helps us have high engagement rates and helps us avoid advocate fatigue.

FN: What advice would you give for people in the world of advocacy for 2018 and beyond?

JM: At the federal level, I would say larger organizations should focus on the committees that directly affect the portfolio of issues that you and your organization care about, and double down on the relationships that you have within those committees. If I was in a small shop that didn’t have a lot of resources, I would try to create a strategy revolving around the local level relationships because more action is happening at the state and local levels these days. Members of Congress are keyed into what is happening at the local level within their districts, so smaller shops with less resources can make a greater impact by finding those local relationships–which are often times easier to uncover than at the federal level.

FN: What are some of the top challenges facing advocacy professionals?

JM: Getting members or consumers to understand the importance and role advocacy plays in helping your organization with the advancement of legislative/regulatory goals is one of the biggest challenges professionals face right now. The 24-hour news cycle and the constant drum of information coming from multiple channels makes it extremely difficult to break through the noise. Organizations need to prove time and again that they are a trusted source of information with their members and their advocates. Also, the slow pace and perceived dysfunction of the legislative process can leave advocates with a sense that their input is not valued or won’t make a difference. That is the farthest thing from the truth. Members of Congress as well as state and local lawmakers care deeply about what their constituents think and how they feel about legislation and a solid grassroots operation can help a lawmaker make an informed vote.  

FN: Are organizations looking to integrate grassroots and grasstops functions and teams into the business strategy of organizations?

JM: Yes, absolutely. You never know what lawmakers are going to do next or what issues are going to become the top focus, and that focus could significantly alter your business. So, yes, advocacy needs to become a larger part of an organization’s strategy if they want to get ahead of the issues and really drive the narrative. More and more companies are making the decision to treat grassroots advocacy as a critical component of their overall communications and business strategy.

FN: Can teams and organizations use advocacy to preserve and elevate the brand reputation of an organization?

JM: In short, Yes. The reason our members and advocates are engaged so much in the grassroots advocacy space is because the issues that they face affect their businesses and pocketbooks every single day. Organizations that are able to work with the passion of their members will be able to elevate their brand reputation because a stronger community and member-centric focus is so necessary for today’s government affairs work.

FN: How have you seen technology affect the grassroots space?

JM: Pushing messages out to mobile devices is a large component of how technology is changing the grassroots space. Organizations are able to get their messages out to more people than ever before at a faster rate as well. Social media has also made a great impact. By using technologies like VoterVoice, organizations are able to directly connect our members with and drive message to elected officials via Twitter and Facebook. Teams can focus on direct messaging to Members of Congress using highly personalized social media messages. Technology has allowed for a new multichannel approach to advocacy that greatly impacts the work organizations are doing with their members and lawmakers. Technology also allows us to track what is successful from a messaging and platform point of view, and it allows us to do our work more strategically, efficiently, and successfully.