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8 Things Associations and Nonprofits are Doing Differently Since COVID-19

by Sherry Stanley Whitworth, FiscalNote

How associations and nonprofits can take a proactive approach during the crisis that will future-proof them for the road ahead

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Over the course of the past few weeks when all of the conferences, workshops, and in-person meetings I would have attended have either been canceled or moved exclusively online, I’ve been on a listening tour of sorts through Zoom, Google hangouts, and the good old-fashioned telephone.  

Participating in meetings digitally has its pluses and minuses. 

As an extrovert, I’m fueled by the energy and interactions of in-person meetings, so missing that face-to-face connection is a bummer. However, one of the bonuses is that I’m listening more intently. I’ve taken copious notes while chatting to colleagues, clients, and friends in the greater association and nonprofit world, and as I reread them some common themes keep appearing. 

Reaching out to my network, I hear everything from fear and frustration to exhaustion, and obstacles. But I also hear communities coming together in a crisis. We truly are all #inthistogether 

While everything is on pause and associations and nonprofits worry about renewals and funding, they are not letting the grass grow under their feet. Most are taking a proactive, positive approach to helping their members and the communities they serve.  

I’ve noted 8 things the association and nonprofit peers I’ve been talking to are doing to bridge the gap until we can all get safely back to our desks.

1. Pivoting to Current Issues 

Organizations that need loans, grants and programs, are laser-focused on finding those and aiding their members. That means switching gears from what they had been working on, to figuring out avenues within the $2 trillion federal stimulus bill. They’re also grappling with making sense of the more than 500 state COVID-related bills that have been introduced and/or enacted to support their industry’s workers and interests. 

Here at FiscalNote we’ve pulled together a great policy map to help you track those COVID-19 issues. 

2. Building a Database and Staying Visible

Some organizations are using this time to build their base, recruit members, and clean or enhance their data so they’ve got a team of advocates to take action when the time comes. I’m helping one client sift through hundreds of available data points to better understand who their large and diverse membership consists of, whether they're active on social channels (and which ones), do they give to political candidates, are they registered to vote, what is their age range, and so on.

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3. Becoming a Resource Hub

Several associations and nonprofits have positioned themselves as the place to go for updates on legislation, regulations, and other resources to help their members. Like never before nonprofits and associations are working to help their stakeholders understand the ramifications of policies and executive orders. The number and range of these policies are changing daily, impacting their members and the communities they serve professionally and personally. Use FiscalNote’s COVID resource page to share what’s useful to your audiences.

4.Encouraging Online Engagement

Advocacy participation is at a record high as organizations take to their efforts online via their websites, outbound communications, and social media to encourage advocates to ACT at federal, state and local levels. This engagement helps members and donors to understand the important role their organization fills. For organizations that rely on private funding this is a great move as members and interested parties who take action on an advocacy level are said to be seven times more likely to donate to your organizations. 

See an example of the sort of campaigns you can run with FiscalNote’s advocacy tools here

5. Moving to Virtual Fly-ins and State Capitol Days

With Congressional offices and nearly all the state capitals closed, those Hill Day’s or in-person meetings you'd been planning for months can’t happen, right? Actually, they can. It seems most offices are actively embracing taking those lawmaker meetings online. With a little training and prep, and the magic of the internet. you can still meet ‘face-to-face’ virtually. Need tips? We put together a handy checklist. 

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6. Trying Something New

The “we’ve always done it this way” mantra might not work as well in the current situation. Organizations are dipping their toes in new lanes. Podcasting, Facebook Live, interactive content, daily updates, Polls, Pulse surveys, and yes, actual telephone calls, are ways organizations are connecting with members, showing care, and learning what they can do to help in the most meaningful ways.

7. Transitioning “Old Practices” to More Accessible Outlets 

People are clamoring for good content and some organizations are moving their publications and events to an on-demand, online offering. Here at FiscalNote we’ve taken one of our popular weekly publications, CQ Magazine, and moved it to electronic-only access. 

8. Letting Their Hair Down! 

Working from your kitchen table means dogs and kids making noise in the background. That used to be seen as unprofessional, but today’s situation expects it. Organizations are showing their humanness and connecting with people TRULY where they are.  

Sherry Stanley Whitworth worked with a small team to build out the world’s first online grassroots advocacy system, and continues to be an industry pioneer helping organizations improve their advocacy performance on best practices, strategies, and tactics for government relations success. She is FiscalNote’s Managing Director, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Public Affairs Council, as Vice Chair of American Society of Association Executives’ Government Relations and Advocacy Professionals Advisory Council, and on the PACs, Politics and Grassroots task force of Women in Government Relations.

Advocacy Benchmark Report 2019

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