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Advocacy in Pandemic Times: Data Shows Transformation in the Last 18 Months

by Lydia Stowe, FiscalNote

Leveraging the data and insights from our 2021 Advocacy Benchmark Report, we look at how advocacy professionals have been impacted by COVID-19 and how they adapted.

Remote advocacy work during COVID-19

It's no secret that the last year was a unique and challenging time for advocacy, but would you have guessed one-third of advocacy organizations had more substantial results impacting policy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic? 

While some impacts of the pandemic were surprisingly positive, others brought new challenges to advocacy work. FiscalNote's 2021 Advocacy Benchmark Report gleaned insights into the impacts of the pandemic on the advocacy industry, offering a look into the obstacles and triumphs of the last 18 months. Here are a few of the report’s highlights:

2021 Advocacy Benchmark Report

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The Shift to Digital Advocacy 

Unsurprisingly, digital advocacy replaced planned in-person advocacy programs due to the pandemic. In fact, 61 percent of FiscalNote advocacy clients surveyed said they switched to digital advocacy due to the pandemic. 

Despite the shift in tactics, only 5 percent said their advocate response rates fell compared to previous years, indicating that digital advocacy was incredibly effective. While their industries were severely impacted by COVID-19, the majority of respondents said they had better response rates than ever from advocates. 

Virtual events proved to be no exception: many organizations, including the Electronic Security Association and the National Retail Federation, found their virtual fly-ins got even more participation than in-person events in past years. Geographical, budgetary, and logistical restrictions aren’t an obstacle to virtual events, leaving more space for meaningful conversations about the issues that matter.

60
percent

of visitors to FiscalNote advocacy clients’ Action Centers used mobile devices.

Mobile Device Use Surged

With most people at home, mobile device use became even more prevalent during the pandemic. A Statista report showed that mobile phone usage in the United States increased 40 percent during the early months of the pandemic. 

In 2019, mobile traffic was beginning to emerge as the most-used device to access FiscalNote advocacy clients’ Action Centers, leading with 4 percent more traffic than desktops. In 2020, that lead was six times higher. Last year, 60 percent of visitors to FiscalNote advocacy clients’ Action Centers were using mobile devices. This rapid increase in mobile device use means advocacy professionals have to make sure their emails and social media posts are aligned with mobile-friendly guidelines now and going forward. Advocacy emails, subject lines, and social media posts must be optimized for mobile devices, and during COVID-19 this became more important than ever. 

The majority of respondents said they had better response rates than ever from advocates.

FiscalNote Advocacy Benchmark Report

Creativity Reached a New Level

The unique challenges COVID-19 brought were an opportunity for the advocacy industry to prove just how important its work is during a crisis. Advocacy organizations rose to the challenge, bringing creative ideas and a fresh perspective to ensure they reached their goals. 

For example, the National Down Syndrome Society jumped on the TikTok bandwagon to raise awareness and mobilize supporters. “We made a TikTok, and we were able to drive people to our action center that way, and we've got thousands of new advocates and hundreds of messages going out to legislators through VoterVoice,” explained Nicole Patton, manager of grassroots advocacy at NDSS.

The hard work and creativity of advocacy professionals everywhere paid off. Throughout the pandemic, 35 percent of FiscalNote advocacy clients found that legislators were more responsive than ever, and they had more substantial results impacting policy during the pandemic. 

Real-Life Stories

National Retail Federation Pivoted to Protect Jobs and Industry Interests

“We generated more than 42,000 messages to Congress last year on COVID-19 relief and we were able to mobilize around 20,000 advocates,” and managed a virtual fly-in with VoterVoice, said Meghan Cruz, director of grassroots at National Retail Federation (NRF).

While pandemic relief was a big focus for the NRF, the team still had to protect the overall industry’s interests – from immigration reform to infrastructure and labor and employment legislation. “There's not really one issue that doesn't impact retailers because of the nature of the business,” Cruz said. Learn how they did it. 

United Way Worldwide Experienced a 265% Increase in Engaged Advocates

“Our shift to virtual was seemingly overnight,” said Steve Taylor, senior vice president and counsel for public policy at United Way Worldwide. “Our United Way team was relentless in accelerating our advocacy work in record time. We are grateful that FiscalNote enabled us to quickly harness the power of the United Way Network to fight for America’s recovery.” 

Because of their agility, and leveraging the capabilities of FiscalNote Advocacy, the United Way team kicked off their COVID-19-focused campaign within just a few weeks of the first wide-scale stay-at-home orders. During those early stages of the crisis, when there was so much uncertainty, advocates were especially engaged and eager to do something to help. As a result, the last three weeks of March 2020 alone doubled the total number of engaged advocates for all of the previous year. Find out more.

FASEB Widened its Net, Increasing Engagement by 4,000% 

“The onset of COVID-19 had an immediate impact on researchers,” said Ellen Kuo, associate director of legislative affairs for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). “Many labs were closed, and with researchers unable to conduct experiments and collect data, it meant that so much was lost — valuable time, research information, equipment, even the live animals used. Restarting research that was paused was going to require money.” 

With the help of VoterVoice’s reporting insights and award-winning customer support, FASEB decided to significantly expand its channels to reach more advocates. The impact was immediate and substantial. From just 40 phone calls, the campaign’s engagement leaped to nearly 1,600 actions taken within just a few days. Learn what they did.

Advocacy Professionals Eye Post-Pandemic Challenges

The pandemic is still front and center in many aspects of life, but the rapid vaccine rollout indicates the worst may soon be behind us. The advocacy industry is looking to the future and beginning to focus on non-pandemic-related issues, with 19 percent worried about starting from scratch with a pre-COVID issues strategy.

Looking into 2022, FiscalNote advocacy clients say the biggest challenges they anticipate are increased competition for advocates’ attention and being blindsided by other emerging issues. Thirty-two percent are concerned their advocates will have too much competition for their attention from other issues. 

Virtual meetings during the pandemic

Boost Your Digital Advocacy Strategy with VoterVoice

Throughout the pandemic, digital advocacy became more important than ever for advocacy professionals. VoterVoice helps mobilize your supporters to act from the comfort of their own home, using the platform of their liking — be it email, social media, phone call, or text.

From scheduling and personalizing messages to your advocates and setting up campaigns quickly, to having real-time data on your campaigns to optimize as you go, VoterVoice provides all the digital advocacy tools you need to raise awareness, mobilize your advocates, and make an impact.

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