Things are changing at Alzheimer’s Impact Movement. The organization spent the last decade fighting for better funding, research and patient care for the five million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. But the response it gets today is different from years past.
“Members of Congress thought AIM was taken care of, we weren’t on their radar,” said Christopher Masak, senior associate director for advocacy. “Now, they are not only supporters, they are our champions.”
To hear Masak explain it, the organization modernized both its approach to advocacy and the tools it uses. The organization has recruited thousands of new advocates, moved tens of thousands to action and seen major legislative victories-all while reducing reliance on older tools like email.
“We needed to ramp things up,” Masak said. “We needed the ability to come at legislators in different ways. We needed to be more nimble.”
Like many organizations, AIM once relied on emailing a large volume of form letters to influence members of Congress and other elected ocials. But it transitioned to a more focused strategy, using a sophisticated network of volunteers across the country-one in every congressional district-and more personalized communications to build relationships with lawmakers. “We have a more sustained approach,” Masak said.
AIM changed its tool set, too. The nonprofit was already using Blackbaud Luminate Online for donor management and fundraising. It added Phone2Action in 2018 to harness cutting-edge advocacy tools such as text messaging, short codes and custom keywords.
“We needed that seamless piece where people can do it from a tablet or a phone while they’re in a car on the way to the airport,” Masak said. “In the back of a taxi, they can take action.”
Text Messaging, Keywords and Short Codes
The results have been dramatic. More than 35,000 people-three quarters of AIM’s supporters-took action on AIM’s policy initiatives in the 18 months that ended in 2019. They sent more than 188,000 emails, 10,000 tweets to members of Congress, and made roughly 547 phone calls, which Masak calls “the hardest actions to ask.
Text messaging was a major step forward. While email is increasingly impacted, text messaging often has a 99-percent open rate with click and conversion rates that can reach double digits. At the end of 2019, AIM had a list of more than 12,000 advocates who opted in to receive text messages. One 2019 campaign was emblematic of the results, drawing a 21.5-percent click rate and 7.5-percent conversion rate.
Yet AIM did not end it there. It also used multiple short codes and custom keywords (e.g., text AIM to 52886) to gather supporters and invite action in many different settings, such as support walks and other events. for example, using the keyword AIMWALK during walks and marathons, the organization mobilized more than 1,500 new advocates and more than 1,100 took action, a conversion rate of 73 percent.
Overall, AIM acquired more than 6,400 new advocates using keywords. It attracted almost 7,400 to join campaigns and one in five-roughly 1,500 people-took action and contacted their lawmaker. The organization has also expanded its program nationally, allowing regional and local chapters to manage their own advocacy through Phone2Action and foster their own advocate relationships.
Efforts like these have yielded real legislative victories. Working on a bipartisan basis with supporters in Congress, AIM and its allies secured an additional $350 million for Alzheimer’s research at the National Institutes of Health. That brings the annual total to about $2.8 billion-a six-fold increase since the landmark National Alzheimer’s Project Act was passed in 2011.
AIM’s modernization also left it extremely well positioned when the COVID-19 crisis hit, eliminating fly-ins and traditional, in-person lobbying. Masak said that any opposition to “clicktivism” has declined in the face of undeniable results.
“We hear from legislators telling us, ‘yes we hear you,’” he said. “The messages are getting through and we are being listened to-they are paying attention.”