Why Grassroots Advocacy is Critical for Engaging Policymakers While Social Distancing

March 25, 2020

Organizations across the country have ramped up their Congressional engagement over the past two weeks as word of a stimulus package spurred lobbying and advocacy teams into action. While the first package has nearly passed, organizations will continue to make asks of policymakers as the coronavirus outbreak unfolds and its impacts on numerous industries continue to be seen.

However, many aspects of traditional lobbying became more challenging with the coronavirus pandemic, most notably the inability to meet with lawmakers in person as organizations across DC and in state capitals are used to. This has forced organizations who rely on lobbying to simultaneously fight for stimulus funds while figuring out the new normal of remote work.

However, grassroots advocacy campaigns are particularly well suited for getting lawmakers’ attention during the coronavirus crisis. Consider these six reasons for ramping up your grassroots advocacy campaigns when your lobbying strategy may be in flux:

Grassroots Teams Are Prepared for Digital-Only Communication

Lobbyists may be in flux trying to transition their typically in-person strategies online, but many advocacy teams are used to running digital campaigns. With advocates spread out around the country, organizations are used to using email for calls-to-action, video for lessons on effective advocacy, and digital communications to engage officials. As a result, when the coronavirus crisis hit, it was easier for many organizations to ramp up their activity without having to reimagine their strategy significantly for remote communication.

Advocates Are Engaged and Anxious to Participate

Many of the organizations having the greatest success are associations activating their members or corporations activating their employees. Over the past several weeks, many individuals have seen their jobs and industries change dramatically and suffer from closures. These advocates are anxious about their future and looking to play an active role in ensuring the ability to return to operations when shelter-in-place recommendations are lifted.

Smart organizations show that they’re fighting on their advocates’ behalf by providing a platform for their advocates to write their member of Congress and share their stories.

Many organizations running campaigns targeted on coronavirus related aid are also finding that not only are their members or employees participating, but also friends and family members of those directly impacted as well as consumers who enjoy the benefits of the employees’ work. While everyone’s attention is almost singularly focused on coronavirus and our government’s response, you can grow the number of advocates who are taking action on your campaigns now, then continue to engage them in the future as a part of your advocate database.

Associations Provide a Platform for Small Businesses Who Can’t Fly to Washington

Many of the organizations most heavily affected by the coronavirus outbreak have been small businesses—restaurants, bars, bookstores, gyms, retail and more. However, these businesses are probably not at the scale to have an organized lobbying or advocacy operation of their own.

With associations running advocacy campaigns, these small businesses can more easily make their voices heard and share their personal stories with legislators.

Social Media is Around the Clock — and Grassroots Teams Are Used to That

Much of the first stimulus package debate took place over the weekend of March 21st and 22nd, meaning congressional staff was likely even lighter than usual. Additionally, offices have decided on a case-by-case basis how to adapt to coronavirus, either by having fewer staffers in the office at a time or having all staffers work from home. As a result, organizations have been using a multi-channel approach to advocacy in case it was harder to get in touch with legislators’ offices over the phones or by email during the weekend.

Social media provided an opportunity to get through outside of typical office hours. Many members monitor their own social media accounts, and staffers monitor notifications on their cell phones rather than office computers.

Personal Stories Help Lawmakers in Negotiations and Debate

During legislative debate, lawmakers often rely on storytelling from constituents to help paint a picture of how a certain outcome would affect their livelihood. With a grassroots advocacy platform like Quorum, organizations can run a Share Your Story campaign to collect personal anecdotes from advocates and share those in bulk with lawmakers so they have stories on hand to discuss when considering supporting different industries.

This can be particularly important if the impact of coronavirus on your industry isn’t as high-profile as others or is specific to a particular region and therefore members need stories to understand what’s happening.

Building Your Grassroots Infrastructure Will Prepare You for a Post-Coronavirus Pandemic World

While we hope the social distancing recommendations will be only a few weeks or months, the impacts of coronavirus on organizations worldwide will extend beyond the shelter-in-place orders and business closures. Many anticipate that budgets will remain tight well beyond this immediate economic crash. As a result, your organization may choose to cancel your fly-in for next year or reduce your in-person engagements for budgetary reasons. Some also anticipate that individuals may continue to hold back on travel for health reasons even after the heightened threat is reduced. As a result, you may need to continue these digital strategies for advocacy well beyond the next few months. By ramping up your grassroots efforts now, you can strategize and build best practices that will suit your team well beyond the extreme circumstances we’re experiencing now.

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