Training and mobilizing citizens can be a great use of your time and provide a powerful boost to your advocacy initiative.
A report by the Congressional Management Foundation underscored a huge opportunity for advocates to engage citizens. Based on surveys collected over a 12-year period, the report outlined the most effective ways to inform and persuade members of Congress, but the findings apply to elected leaders at all levels of government.
Here are three ways you can use citizens in your advocacy campaign:
Citizens who share personal stories are most effective
Direct interactions with constituents have more influence than other advocacy strategies. Lawmakers rely on citizens to tell them how a bill or issue has real-life impact, and advocates cannot presume elected officials already know or understand their issues.
Boost your advocacy by training citizens who can share tell their personal stories. Provide compelling and useful information, but don’t overwhelm with technical details or a mountain of statistics.
Most importantly, be truthful. Providing false information or glossing over facts to advance your agenda will damage your relationship. Elected officials must know they can trust you and the citizens who speak on your behalf.
Training makes all the difference
Citizens are most effective when they’ve studied and practiced advocacy techniques. Invest time and resources into your citizen advocates. That could include teaching effective storytelling, practicing an elevator speech that communicates the why, how and what of the issue or concern, distributing key messages and talking points, and conducting social media training.
Elected officials have a limited amount of time. Training citizens will help them make a greater impact in the time they have available.
Relationships are the foundation
Elected leaders value groups and citizens who have established relationships with lawmakers and staff. You want elected leaders to view you – and the citizens you engage – as an important resource, which means establishing a relationship before there is an urgent need.
One way to begin is to invite elected officials to see you in action. Invite them to observe your work and meet your employees, volunteers or clients. Show them the positive impact you’re having, and share your vision.
Your relationship must also extend to influential staff members. Elected officials rely on staff for insight, direction and logistics. Get to know the staff member who oversees your specific issue area. Look for opportunities to meet and have conversations before you speak to the elected official.
Establishing and cultivating relationships will allow you to call on lawmakers when you need them.
Now, more than ever, groups and individuals must employ a strategic approach to advocacy that includes grassroots and grasstops efforts to engage citizens and lawmakers. Citizens often represent untapped potential.
Before you kick of your next advocacy initiative, engage citizens in telling your story and equip them with the tools they need to be successful.