For many Connecticut nonprofits, the Legislative Session is a time to engage constituents – be they members, community partners or volunteers – in helping to drive change and inspire policies that benefit not only the organization itself, but also those they serve. While hiring a lobbyist, having a public policy professional on staff or developing a legislative agenda may all be part of a nonprofit’s advocacy efforts, it is important to consider how one will communicate with members and other constituents, ultimately engaging a broader community in the cause and empowering them to become change agents.
As your organization ramps up its policy work during the Legislative Session, follow these five tips for improving your communications and engaging more stakeholders:
1. Define the ask… and the action
Noise and clutter can make it challenging to reach and engage audiences. Therefore, it is important that messaging is clear, concise, compelling and clearly defines what stakeholders should do with the information they are receiving. Whether you want them to sign a petition, email a legislator, schedule an in-person meeting with an elected official or forward the email to five friends, the “ask” and the “action” need to be clearly defined.
2. ‘What’s in it for me?’
While helping your organization to grow and thrive may seem like reason enough for a member or other stakeholder to take action, it’s critical to let key audiences know why it’s important for them to take action. Maybe it means equating one click to one more family that can put a nutritious meal on the table, or alerting supporters that advocating for a new bill means more students are able to attend college. In short, people need to know how they – and their community – will benefit from their support of and participation in the cause.
3. Host community forums
For membership organizations, convening stakeholders for a roundtable conversation with elected officials can help to build relationships, inspire an issue-driven dialogue and help to humanize an issue. For example, if you are a nonprofit trade association advocating for increased funding to vital community programs, a community forum provides an opportunity to share stories of need and impact while posing important questions to elected officials; would they prefer constituents call or email when they want to talk to them about an issue? Would they be willing to visit your program and meet with some of your clients? And so forth.
4. Employ a multi-channel approach
There is a fine line between saturating audiences with the same message on multiple communication channels and ensuring audiences on each channel have an adequate opportunity to be informed and engaged. For example, at an in-person meeting, your organization may hand out a fact sheet detailing how stakeholders can support the organization’s legislative advocacy efforts. You may then decide to take those ten action steps and break them into 10 individual tweets and deploy one per day for the next 10 days. You may then decide to post a question-and-answer with a member who took one of the action steps and has a great success story to share on your blog – and close the post by posing the same “ask” and proposed call-to-action to other stakeholders. In short, while the message and ask are largely the same, your audience isn’t being bombarded with the exact same information packaged the exact same way everywhere they turn. Not only does this approach help to boost member engagement, it prevents audiences from feeling there isn’t a compelling reason to connect with your organization through multiple channels or networks.
5. Measure success
Beyond the number of letters written and meetings scheduled with legislators, how will your organization know if its efforts to engage members in legislative advocacy were successful? How will you know which approach is worth replicating and how staff’s time and efforts should be reallocated for optimal ROI?
At the conclusion of the legislative session, consider deploying a short member survey that asks questions such as:
- Do you feel our organization kept you well-informed of its work at the capital during the most recent Legislative Session?
- Did you and/or a colleague attend one of our organization’s public policy-focused events during the most recent Legislative Session?
- What communication channels did you find most helpful in keeping you updated about our policy work?
- What additional communication channels should we consider using during the upcoming session?
- Which of the following action steps proposed by our organization did you take during the session?
- Are there any success stories or feedback you would like to share regarding the action you took and its outcome(s)?
While this list is by no means comprehensive, it helps to inform the nonprofit communications strategy for the next year’s legislative organization and any other advocacy work in which you group may be involved. It also demonstrates that your organization is committed to serving its members and values stakeholders’ feedback.
While effectively engaging members and other stakeholders in supporting a nonprofit’s advocacy efforts can be a time-intensive process, it is a great opportunity to boost stakeholders’ engagement with the cause and demonstrate to legislators that there is either widespread support for, or opposition to, the critical issues being discussed at the capital.