How to Tune Up Your Election-Year Advocacy
Advocacy changes in an election year. How will your team adapt? With more than 7,000 federal, state and local seats on the ballot nationwide, the 2022 election will dominate the national conversation in the months ahead. Here are some ways that associations and nonprofits can prepare.
Advocacy is a very different exercise in an election year. With more than 7,000 federal, state and local seats on the ballot nationwide, thousands of candidates will be loudly discussing issues. Often, those will be your issues. Get ready for some noise.
From town halls and debates to campaign ads, candidates will maintain a steady flow of commentary on issues, some of which will be important to your organization. The administration will sometimes weigh in, as will governors, analysts and political parties. Whether your organization has a voice will depend on the strength of your advocacy game this year.
Smart government affairs teams are preparing now. Associations, nonprofits and other member organizations are assessing their capabilities, setting priorities, adopting new technology, and revising communication plans. The goal is to understand how your organization will communicate, cut through the noise and maximize influence.
“This year’s election will decide control of Congress,” said Jeb Ory, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Capitol Canary. “That means it will impact almost every government affairs team in some way, and it’s important to be active. Membership organizations have an opportunity to become a source of truth for voters and to empower people to make their voices heard.”
Creating an Election Plan
To learn more about how to assess your organization’s existing capabilities, evaluate technology and set priorities, download the white paper Sharpen Your Advocacy in an Election Year. Our focus here will be creating a plan that answers a simple yet vital question: what will your organization actually do? The answers will be different at every organization, but here are some important elements to consider with your team:
- Education. How will your organization educate your audience? Regular communications on the election are a good idea, but how that looks will differ according to the needs and capabilities of your organization and the appetite of your audience. It may be a weekly email update or a regular monthly newsletter. Whatever you decide, be consistent. The idea is to become a trusted and reliable resource.
- Response. Candidates are going to be addressing your issues. Will you respond? If so, under what conditions will you respond and how will you do so? Take the time to set some policy parameters so that your team knows what warrants a response and what can be ignored. Be judicious. You want your responses to have impact.
- Voice. Here’s something that few organizations consider carefully: who is your messenger and what is their voice? It’s an important question. Is your organization best served by communicating directly from the brand or should it have a face, such as an employee, a subject-matter expert or even your executive director or CEO. When considering this question, do so through the prism of the election. The face of your organization must be able to convey information credibly about issues and electoral politics.
- Earned Media. Will your organization stick to owned media, like the association blog, or will you seek earned media? Getting your experts quoted in stories, appearing on podcasts and commenting on television is highly profitable stuff. So is writing op-eds and letters to the editor. But it requires hard work and solid resources. Weigh the benefits and be realistic.
- Events. If your association holds an annual conference or other events, don’t ignore the election as a topic. That’s a prime opportunity to educate your audience, conduct advocacy around your issues and even build a sense of community.
Helping Your Audience Vote
One area that deserves special consideration is how you address your audience around voting. Will your organization help people register? Will you offer information on candidates and voting laws? Those are questions to answer right away. At many organizations, the answer is yes.
The State of Government Affairs Survey, released by Capitol Canary in March, asked almost 500 government affairs professionals how they will handle the election. The results showed that a large majority of associations and nonprofits plan to get active around the election. More than two thirds plan to advocate on issues and more than half will conduct GOTV efforts.
Helping your members, supporters and advocates vote is a great role to play at election time. It shows your organization supports civic activity and provides a solid member benefit. While there are many ways to do this, here are some elements to consider:
- Set a Goal. Gather your leadership and discuss why you are getting involved in GOTV efforts. What would constitute a successful initiative? When you have agreement, create a tight, realistic plan to reach that goal.
- Launch a Pledge Campaign. One good way to start is with a campaign asking your audience to pledge that they will vote. It signals you care about the election and that you want your audience to participate. On Election Day, you can highlight those who fulfilled their pledge on social channels.
- Create Resources. Don’t just ask people to vote. Help them do it. Your organization can provide members with a single resource to find what they need. An election center on your website where members can turn to register, study up on candidates and get voting information can be a major help.
With a bit of preparation, your organization can play a unique role in the election because your relationship with your audience—members, advocates, supporters and even employees—is unique.
“Membership organizations are vital at election time because people trust them,” Ory said. “Whether on candidates or issues, they provide voters with solid information—information they need—in language they understand.”