2011 – it’s a new year and a new Congress! The 112th Congress was just sworn in today, January 5th, and Congress is back in session ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. And since it’s a new year, let’s all agree on a New Year’s resolution: let’s make ALL of our communications to Congress more effective.
Nonprofit organizations have room for improvement here. Online advocacy doesn’t work in a vacuum – it works best when it’s part of a thoughtful integrated campaign that combines offline and online actions. Lobby visits, town hall meetings, phone calls, handwritten letters, grass-tops meetings, tweets, and yes, even emails to Representatives and Senators are all important pieces of grassroots activity that can help to make change. None of these things by itself will create the tipping point moment – but when combined, they can.
Some people will have you believe that online advocacy doesn’t work, or that Congress isn’t listening, and so you should abandon your efforts entirely. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Don’t listen to the naysayers – but do take a lesson about what you can be doing better.
DO make your messages relevant to specific bills that are pending in Congress – and mention the bill by name in your sample letter text in your online advocacy campaign or petition.
DON’T blast Congress indiscriminantly with vague messages about “supporting our issues” – they need specifics about what your members are asking them to support or cosponsor. Otherwise it looks like your campaign is simply there to build your list.
DO include the name of your organization in the sample letter text. Congress wants to know who is facilitating the messages and what side of the issue you’re on. Trying to mask your organization’s name to make it appear that thousands of people suddenly woke up one day and decided to send a near-identical letter to Congress out of the blue is, well, silly.
DON’T think that technology is the only tool in your toolbox. There’s a great article on Frogloop about facilitating grassroots activity to enact social change and moving grassroots supporters up an “engagement ladder” – similar to the tried-and-true techniques for moving a donor up the donor ladder.
DO go local. So many policy issues are decided at the local level, and county, municipal and other local elected officials and decision makers are still receptive to receiving e-mail from constituents. In 2011, Convio will offer Local Data as part of our Advocacy suite – allowing you to use thousands of local targets for your online advocacy efforts. The same rules apply here – target your communications and don’t send them garbage, so these folks will still pay attention to electronic communications.
2011 holds many opportunities for advocates in what is sure to be an exciting Congressional session. The 2011 House calendar has increased time for Representatives to spend in their districts meeting with constituents. Having your supporters schedule in-district meetings or attend already-scheduled town hall meetings is a another great way to reach decision makers.
Okay, that’s that. Go forth and advocate! Do it smartly, do it as part of a campaign, be specific, and let us know how it goes! Happy 2011.