How AIM Powered Up Advocacy
Using text messaging in addition to email, AIM is posting numbers that would make any advocacy organization proud. Here's how they did it.
There was a time when the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement conducted digital advocacy in traditional ways. They had a large list of supporters, sent out calls to action and generated large numbers of email letters.
The organization was successful in its mission to fight Alzheimer’s Disease by advocating for increased research and better patient care. But as its policy agenda grew to include multiple bills in various stages of the legislative process, leadership knew that sophistication had to grow alongside it.
“We reached a point where we needed to ramp things up,” said Christopher Masak, senior associate director for advocacy. “We needed better data on what was going on, we needed better tools and we needed the ability to come at legislators in different ways. We needed to be more nimble.”
Today, AIM is posting numbers that would make many advocacy organizations proud.
Ready for Action
In the 18 months that ended in 2019, three quarters of AIM’s supporters—more than 35,000 people—took action on its policy initiatives. The result was more than 188,000 emails and 10,000 tweets sent to members of Congress. Those same supporters also made roughly 547 phone calls and spent almost 13 hours talking to lawmakers.
“We needed to get the technology out of people’s way so they can do what they are supposed to do in the advocacy space, which is to communicate and build relationships with elected officials,” Masak said.
AIM was using Blackbaud CRM and in 2018 it added Capitol Canary as a platform to carry out its digital advocacy efforts.
The tools matched an advocacy style that evolved to focus on targeted communications and personalized messaging, with an emphasis on building relationships with members of Congress and other public officials.
The organization is now happy to run campaigns that target selected members of a committee or certain lawmakers within one party or another, with the expectation that advocates may number in the dozens rather than in the hundreds or thousands. The quality of those connections carries the day.
“There are lots of groups who do petitions,” Masak said. “There are lots of groups that send letters and do phone calls. But they dump everything on Congress in one day and then they disappear. Their goal isn’t relationships, their goal is shock to the system or being belligerent or being thankful. We have a more sustained approach.”
Text messaging was also a major step forward for AIM when it came to moving supporters to action.
“We needed something that allowed people to do that easily,” Masak said. “Not with the expectation that they’ll read our email when they get home from work at night on their desktop computer and type out something on their full-screen browser.”
Masak calls it seamless advocacy, giving advocates tools that synch with how they want to participate in the process. “It was having people take action three days late because the message went into their spam box versus a text message perking them up right at the moment we need them,” he said. “That was critical.”
Unlike email, which is increasingly impacted, text messaging often has a 99-percent open rate and click rates that reach double digits. Using custom keywords and SMS short codes, conversation—in this case, getting supporters to take action—is correspondingly higher.
At the end of last year, 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.
“They could glance at their phone for 30 seconds, see a link in a text message, tap it and it takes them to a place where … they can hit a button and the message goes out in a variety of ways,” Masak said. “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. In the back of a taxi, they can take action.”