Boost your influence by training and mobilizing constituent advocates

picture of the US capitol

A report by the Congressional Management Foundation confirms what advocacy experts have known for decades: Citizen voices truly influence our nation’s lawmakers.

The report, based on surveys collected over a 12-year period and including 1,200 responses from congressional staffers, outlines the most effective ways to inform and persuade members of Congress. The findings underscore a huge opportunity for advocacy groups to train and mobilize citizens.

Many of the report’s findings align with the strategies I’ve found to be most powerful including relationship building and storytelling. Here are some of the highlights and ways you can build your own advocacy success:

From the report: Advocacy groups and individuals have significant potential to improve their skills and influence.

Putting it into practice: The Congressional Management Foundation found a large gap between “typical constituents” and those who had studied and practiced advocacy techniques. Congressional staffers said advocates who had been trained were more prepared for meetings.

The report recommends a “citizen-centric” model, which means investing time and resources into educating and mobilizing citizens.

Elected officials have a limited amount of time. Engaging with them requires practicing, for example, an elevator speech that clearly communicates the why, how and what of the issue or program of concern.

Once you’ve identified and trained advocates, you must keep them informed and active. Social media is a great tool for engaging champions and maximizing your voice.

Employees’ Social Media Use Can Supercharge Your Advocacy Influence

More people today than ever before make decisions about the issues they support based on influence from friends and family members. Often, that influence comes via social media.

Conducting social media training and sharing strategic messages with your stakeholders will amplify your influence.

From the report: Congress values groups and citizens who have built relationships with lawmakers and staff.

Putting it into practice: Relationships are the foundation for advocacy.

You want elected leaders to view you as an important resource, which means establishing a relationship before there is an urgent policy 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 staff members. Elected officials rely on staff for insight, direction and logistics. These staff members are influential. 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.

From the report: Advocates are most successful and contribute to better public policy when they provide personal stories about local impact.

Putting it into practice: The story of one person can be more powerful than anything else. Boost your advocacy by engaging and training citizens who can share tell their own stories.

The Storytellers – Your Best Advocates

Lawmakers rely on advocates to tell them how a bill or issue has real-life impact on their constituents. Advocates presume the elected official intimately understands their issue. That often isn’t the case.

Provide credible, useful information, but don’t overwhelm with technical details or a mountain of statistics. Avoid the use of industry jargon.

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.

Post-Election Advocacy: Make Your Voice Heard in a Changing Political Landscape

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. As this report highlights, citizens often represent untapped potential in advocacy.

Get citizens engaged in telling your story, equip them with the tools they need to be effective, and you will see powerful results.

Karen B. Moore is founder and CEO of Moore Communications Group and author of “Behind the Red Door: Unlock Your Advocacy Influence and Success.