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Experts Share Best Practices to Make 2022 Your Best Advocacy Year Yet

by Lydia Stowe, FiscalNote

Advocacy experts share best practices for shaping a winning advocacy strategy and the resources and tools you need to leverage.

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This year, more than ever, lawmakers in swing districts, those canvassing for new seats, or just trying to get reelected and closer to their constituents and interest groups have their ears open to listening to you and your key issues. That makes 2022 a great time to build and strengthen relationships with your key legislators, as well as energize and mobilize your supporters to push your issues forward.

As we prepare for 2022, new workflows for digital advocacy have become the norm as organizations have shifted to a hybrid virtual/in-person environment while continuing to advocate for their members and clients. 

FiscalNote held a virtual discussion on advocacy trends, tools and resources for 2022, featuring professionals in the advocacy world. Joining the conversation were Kristin St. John, former deputy director of national grassroots advocacy at the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC); Steve Reynolds, director of advocacy mobilization at World Vision; and Angela Lee, manager of advocacy outreach and engagement at Goodwill Industries International. These experts discussed best practices to shape your strategy for advocacy during an election year. Here are the highlights from the discussion:

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How do you identify and engage advocates, and then encourage them to do bigger and better things in your organization? 

Reynolds: At every stage along the way, we like to flip the traditional marketing funnel and talk about a pyramid. There's a big base at the pyramid and then there are tiers going up to the top of the pyramid. The top of the pyramid is where we have the most engaged advocates. They're the ones who are really trained and we like to build those relationships between them and their members of Congress. But to do that, we have to get them up that pyramid. For example, we might start with an email: just click a button and email your member of Congress — that's easy. Or even easier, click and sign your name to a petition. But we don't want to leave them at that level. We want to get them up that ladder to a more robust, meaningful relationship with their members. 

St. John: Each month we focus on social media, how you do communications, getting your information, your letters to the editors and op-eds out there. Obviously because of COVID-19, virtual engagement is an option as well. That actually got a lot of people really active, which was great. We also have a weekly newsletter that would go out to everybody and we made it a specific goal to include stories that were in the press to show, this is how you can get some press and get the word out there.

What have been the benefits and challenges of virtual and hybrid events over the past two years?

St. John: The one thin silver lining with the pandemic is that it did allow us to reach outside the C-suite of community health centers, to reach that person who happens to be a front desk attendant who is interested in advocacy and has a story to tell but never had access. A lot of times you had to pay to get into a conference to participate in events, so the move to virtual has allowed us to reach a wider audience. 

Reynolds: At our advocacy summit in March, we were able to engage about 500 people, and we've never had 500 people in one place before in my memory of work with World Vision. We even got a couple of hundred of them to stay until 10 p.m. to watch a film. That really was a breakthrough for us. We had more ability to schedule meetings with members of Congress; not everybody in a congressional district can get to the county seat for a meeting with a member of Congress and they're only there for maybe a few weeks in August.

But that's not going to last forever and our strong desire at World Vision is to get back to those in-person meetings, to sit down over coffee and talk about issues and prep for a meeting with a member's office. But over the last two years we did find that we were able to engage fairly well with virtual meetings.

Why are great stories important for advocacy, and how do you leverage them?

Lee: It's my firm belief that personal stories are at the heart of advocacy. Especially with this year being a midterm election year and all the noise that will generate, it’s important to remember who is benefiting from your advocacy efforts because at the heart of every good policy story is an individual.

Personal stories are much more memorable for anybody, not just lawmakers, and it gives elected officials a reason to become a champion. Sometimes, if you're lucky, these personal stories might be so memorable that they'll become part of that elected official's talking points whenever they speak on that issue as well.

Obviously, you should share these stories with your elected officials, you can give them to members. Personal stories can help inspire advocates, activate new advocates, and spark that passion. You can share these stories via social media or use a brief quote from it, serving as a testimonial. 

It’s important to remember who is benefiting from your advocacy efforts because at the heart of every good policy story is an individual.

Angela Lee, Manager of Advocacy Outreach and Engagement
Goodwill Industries International

What are your goals for 2022, and how have you strategized for the upcoming year?

Lee: Our main advocacy goal is to strengthen our grassroots and grasstops advocacy engagement. Some ways we'll be doing this are by encouraging our Goodwill members throughout the country to engage with their lawmakers when lawmakers are at home. We will also encourage them to participate in nonpartisan engagement in elections, such as hosting voter registration drives.

We always provide our advocates with the tools that they need, such as through our grassroots advocacy toolkit, which has information on how to host a successful site visit, which is when lawmakers are invited to visit a local Goodwill organization where they can see firsthand the work that Goodwill is doing.

Reynolds: We want to focus more on local districts and local states, creating groups of advocates that can work together, that feel supported not only by us, but by each other to take the long view with members of Congress. We work with like-minded organizations to build these coalitions and then just try to get “constellations of advocacy:” advocates who are in different parts of the district and have different backgrounds. 

We're going to narrow our focus in terms of the numbers of members we're working with and ones we think we can really move on an issue and then try to build cohorts of different types of voices within those areas to move forward. 

St. John: From NACHC's point of view, health centers have been stretched very hard the past couple of years. This year it's basically everybody back at the table talking about reintroducing people to community health centers again and really working harder than ever. I think the focus on local and just regrouping for at least the next six months is going to be important.

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What steps will you take to strengthen your relationships with elected officials in 2022?

Reynolds: Focus on training advocates and providing really fantastic content. We have great stories from the field and communities where we work, but I want to focus on developing those advocate stories that they can share. 

Lee: We're pushing our grassroots advocacy toolkit, just as a reminder for people that there are a lot of great resources in there that make advocacy very easy and not intimidating. We also have a bunch of one-pagers that are downloadable that they can give to their elected officials. 

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