Four Strategies for Optimizing Grasstops Advocacy

April 19, 2018

In a survey of congressional staffers by the Congressional Management Foundation, 94 percent of staffers say that “In-Person Issue Visits from Constituents” have either “A Lot of Positive Influence” or “Some Positive Influence” on a legislators decision regarding legislation. Knowing in-person meetings are the most effective means at moving the needle on issues advocacy organizations care about, how can they use grasstops advocacy to make the most of these opportunities? Brad Fitch, President and CEO at CMF, shared best-practices for constituent engagement and the impact that in-person constituent engagement has on an advocacy organization’s bottom line.

Show Your Advocates That Their Voices Make A Difference

According to Fitch, a significant barrier to advocates taking the time to meet with their legislator or a staffer is they don’t believe their time and voice will make a difference.

With this in mind, Fitch has had success in convincing advocates of the power of their voice from simply showing them the survey data.

“Consistently, we’ve been surveying on this topic for 13 years,” Fitch said. “The number one influence factor to an undecided lawmaker is an in-person visit from a constituent.”

Providing data-driven evidence of the impact individual voices can have on influencing a policymaker will help sway your advocates to take action and call their legislator or set up an in-district meeting.

Use the Proper Tone for Each Communication Vehicle

The tactics that a constituent uses to interact with an elected official on social media isn’t the same as the tactics used to interact in person. Grasstops advocacy training should include preparing program ambassadors on how to communicate in the proper tone and with the proper goals. For instance, a post on Twitter may help quickly grab the attention of a legislator on the existence of your issue, whereas an in-person meeting is more pointed in its goals and focuses on specific legislation at stake.

“You have to know what are the best practices that influence lawmakers, that will get lawmakers to pay attention in various vehicles and tools that you’re using as a citizen advocate,” Fitch said.

Make Sure Your Advocates Are Persistent

Meeting a legislator or a member of their staff one time isn’t enough to make an impact on the issue you care about. According to Fitch, grasstops advocacy programs should encourage advocates to target approximately four meetings per year to be memorable.

“One staffer said to us in a survey, lobbying is like sales,” Fitch said. “In any sales process, any persuasive process, its multiple interactions.”

Fitch believes that above all, the most important relationship that one can have is with the district or state director.

“[The district or state director’s] job is to, not just serve the member, but they have a customer service mentality so one of the first things you can do is try to build a relationship with the district director.”

Give Advocates a Specific Ask

A successful meeting requires specificity , both in the stance you wish the legislator to take and in the action items for the legislator.

“Say, ‘This is what we are concerned about...’—funding for climate change, or we’re concerned about releasing the regulatory burden on small business,” Fitch said. “Then have a specific ask, whether it’s sign this letter, cosponsor this bill, make this statement, don’t vote for this legislation.”

Bottom Line:

Fitch acknowledges that not everyone can get everything right all the time, but that too often, organizations hold back on advocacy because they can’t do 100 percent of the best practices. Even if you can only successfully do a few of the strategies above, you are still on a better path to make an impact on your issue.

“There’s always obstacles in every organization for having a robust advocacy strategy,” Fitch said. “You may not be able to do seven things right...but if you do three or four things right, you’re way ahead of the game.”

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