Updated: Feb 27
I can feel it. You’re ready. It’s a new Congress and you are excited to get your volunteers fired up about your organization’s advocacy agenda.
So, are you really going to send them the same emails that you’ve been churning out for years? Of course not. That’s why you’re reading this post.
Running a more sophisticated and comprehensive campaign doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Often, it’s about more effectively leveraging the assets and tools you already have and enhancing collaboration across your organization.
Here are four things you should be doing in your upcoming legislative campaigns to increase the number of actions and action takers.
Segment to Send Customized Emails and Texts
More customized messages. Isn’t that a lot more work? Definitely not. Using an integrated advocacy and communication platform like Quorum makes it incredibly simple to personalize messages to your volunteers.
Take a look at the record for any group of advocacy volunteers and you’ll see a wealth of potential customization opportunities. For example:
Number of actions taken
My favorite customization is connecting your campaign directly to an issue each volunteer is passionate about. This allows you to enhance the relevance of your messaging and to boost your campaign’s reach.
For example, if you work for a cancer organization, your federal appropriations ask might include funding for medical research at NIH, as well as prevention programs at the CDC.
As you recruit volunteers through petitions, campaigns and other acquisition sources, you can assign them to issue-related categories. (You can also do this for existing volunteers, based on the actions they’ve taken.) The volunteer who participated in a breast cancer walk can be tagged with an interest in breast cancer. The person who signed a petition for more childhood cancer research gets tagged with an interest in childhood cancer.
During your campaign, you can send slightly revised versions of your email or text message with personalized content designed to appeal to each segment of your list. The call to action for your breast cancer volunteers might be to support funding for the CDC’s breast cancer prevention program, while the childhood volunteers would receive a request to increase funding for childhood cancer research at NIH.
In both cases, volunteers will send lawmakers a message or voice mail that contains your overall appropriations message, but that also highlights the issue that is of greatest interest to the volunteer.
A well-written email or text can allow you to vary messaging by swapping just a few lines or words of copy, and the customized approach will make your volunteers more likely to complete the action.
Remember that your volunteers might not be interested in every issue on your advocacy agenda. Segmenting—in your database and in your communications—ensures your organization maintains maximum relevance with volunteers.
Test. Test. Test.
There is no better way to learn about the interests and tendencies of your list than by running A/B tests. In an A/B test, an organization sends two messages to small lists and uses analytics to see which performs better. That message is then sent to the broader list. This is valuable because the more you know, the better your campaigns will perform.
Consider running tests as often as possible throughout your campaigns, but especially at the beginning. This can include testing the content as well as imagery for emails, text messages, and digital advertising. A few key pieces of information you can learn from regular testing include:
The most compelling way to describe your issue
How to frame your request to drive the greatest number of actions
Whether a particular type of image draws in more people (i.e., does an image increase the number who take action)
What types of subject lines drive the highest conversion rates
It takes just minutes to execute an A/B test but the results will provide you with valuable answers about the most effective way to get your volunteers to take action.
Integrate Your Strategy Across Departments
While this tip seems obvious, I’ve seen plenty of organizations that do not coordinate external communications. Sometimes it’s because each team has its own success metrics and their strategies are geared only to hit their own numbers. Other times it has to do with organization and workplace culture. But whatever the case, a lack of coordination is often a missed opportunity.
Collaborating across your entire organization turns your audience into an echo chamber—in a positive way. Everywhere volunteers turn, they will see the same messaging and call to action, increasing conversion rates.Here’s how a coordinated campaign might look from the point of view of different departments:
Digital Advocacy Team: This team makes the same call to action in email, on social media, and via text messages and website copy. If there is a decisive moment in a campaign, they might ask the web team to create a pop-up that all website visitors will see when entering the site.
Media and Communications Team: Communications systems allow your organization to know which reporters cover your issue. Use these tools to match reporters in targeted districts with superstar volunteers in those markets who have been trained to share their story. Having your organization mentioned in earned media stories will drive traffic to your website and social media pages, resulting in more actions and list growth.
Internal Communications Team: This team can send an email to the entire staff asking them to take action. For chapter organizations, provide regional or local leadership with a few sentences and a link they can drop into newsletters and other communications, as well as post on state-based social media pages.
Be sure to use tracking codes on each of your action links so you can see which outlets drive the most action. Sharing this data with your leadership team will help justify future enterprise-wide efforts.
Be Ready to Move Quickly
How quickly can your team move from opportunity to execution? Every major campaign has that decisive moment. It could be when your issue hits the mainstream news or a video goes viral. Or it might be when a legislative deal is struck. If your boss came to you and said, “You have $50,000 to seize this opportunity—go,” would you be ready?
Take a moment to anticipate all the needs you might have to respond to such an opportunity. For example, do you have vendors under contract who could design images or buy advertising? Some consultants will allow you to have an open-ended contract with no financial commitment so you’re not having to wait on your legal department to review agreements when that moment arises.
You can also write all that hard-hitting email copy in advance. It’s the one you’ve written in your head a hundred times, with the messaging that might be a bit too aggressive for the regular campaign but that your leadership team might support when they see a true window for victory. File it away for now, but your boss will be very impressed by how quickly you have something for them to review at the big moment.
Seizing this moment will not only increase the action rates among your organization’s existing volunteers but it will also increase the size of your list. You’ll be able to show your leadership the impact your team can have when provided with additional funding.
Overall, driving more actions doesn’t have to mean taking on a lot more work. By leveraging your organization’s existing tools and assets, you will be able to amplify your message and dramatically increase the actions you’re generating for state and federal legislative campaigns.
In many cases, these are low- or no-cost improvements. Segment your list to create highly relevant messaging. Use A/B testing to optimize every component of emails and texts. Integrate with other departments and partners to amplify your calls to action. And prepare now so you can seize unplanned opportunities. A new year and a new Congress demand a new approach, and now is a good time to champion new tactics within your organization.
Brian Rubenstein, president of Rubenstein Impact Group, helps nonprofit organizations and companies drive greater engagement with their audiences—volunteers, members, employees, customers and partners—to deepen relationships, run successful campaigns and strengthen their brands. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org