Staying Engaged With Your Advocates During A Pandemic

New Epolitics.com contributor! Benjamin Culbreth is a grassroots advocacy professional who’s worked on issues ranging from clean energy to healthcare. Find more of his work at benjaminculbreth.com, and read our earlier piece for more about how the coronovirus pandemic is affecting digital politics.

A few weeks ago, you were likely mobilizing your advocates, getting your campaigns ready and encouraging your supporters to take action on pending legislation. Then everything hit the brakes (literally, everything). State legislatures were dismissed and Congress shifted its entire focus to COVID-19 legislation.

As someone managing a grassroots effort, you probably had your head in your hands. You’d had lots of momentum and plenty of excited advocates, but the world has turned upside down. Maybe your lobby day at the state house was canceled or made virtual. Or your fly-in to DC was postponed. Regardless, the political and advocacy landscape changed nearly overnight. While priorities have shifted and messaging has evolved, you can still keep your advocates engaged, excited and mobilized during this crisis.

Use webinars to make your advocates stronger

Elected officials and campaigns have shifted to online action and events quickly. Take this time to follow suit and use virtual tools to train your advocates. Help your advocates have a deeper understanding of the issues. This is an unprecedented opportunity to walk your volunteers through a piece of legislation or a critical program. Teach them how to testify before a committee. There are many ways your advocates can become even better at telling their stories.

Since many are working or staying at home, they are more likely and willing to join online meetings. Taking time to educate them and answer questions about key issues will help your organization be ready when you return to the Hill or your state capitol.

Cast your recruitment net far and wide

Recruitment may not be front of mind at this moment, but this is a unique time to ask people to join your cause at a higher level. Many across the country are looking for an outlet. They want to give back and help others, and your cause may strike a chord with them. For most advocacy organizations, there is a low barrier to entry; all someone needs is time and a story. Use your email database to invite potential advocates to join webinars or to simply learn what advocacy is all about.

Ask your existing team to get in touch with those they think may be interested in getting involved. Just because your world has stopped doesn’t mean recruiting needs to as well. Continue finding those who are passionate about your issues. For recruits who have been hesitant to join in the past, this is the best time for them to get involved. Maybe they were intimidated by meeting with a Member of Congress or state legislator. If you’re running a virtual campaign, all they need to do is send an email or take action online. This may be the perfect time to get them on board.

Build a powerful digital advocacy team

If you have an online advocacy platform, now is the time to put it to work. Use your technology to experiment with outreach. If you’ve never tried texting your advocates, give it a shot and see how they respond. You may find new ways to engage with your audience.

Build out campaigns for upcoming legislation or issues. Once legislative sessions are addressing business other than COVID-19, you will have action alerts ready so your advocates can contact their legislators.

Use your platforms to collect stories from your advocates. Utilize the social media your advocates actively participate in and ask why they are involved with your mission. It’s likely you’ll receive a strong response from people with whom you’ve never engaged.

Build now to execute later

No matter how the current crisis may have changed your grassroots work, Congress and state legislatures will some day return to addressing new pieces of legislation. Preparing your advocates, recruiting new members, and building a strong digital presence will help position you and your organization to win.

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