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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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“Policy-makers just don't think the public has enough experience and expertise to be credible advocates. And many times they are right. Americans are not as focused as they should be on these issues.”
— Douglas Gould,
Doug Gould & Co.

EXAMPLES

The Save Darfur Coalition was started by advocacy and humanitarian relief groups affiliated with the Jewish community. At first it mobilized predominantly members of this community across the country, calling them to action to help stop the genocide in Darfur. In less than two years the coalition has evolved to become a diverse alliance of over 100 faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations. Read more »

Who's Your Constituency?

Building a constituency or advocacy base for your cause can often be the most important component of a successful advocacy campaign. Citizens who believe in your advocacy goal and become engaged advocates are your most powerful allies, especially over the long run.

But long-term engagement doesn't result from a one-way conversation, no matter how worthy the cause. Katya Andresen, author of "Robin Hood Marketing," writes about the temptation to trumpet the "mission megaphone." Making contact with your audience by explaining and driving home the importance of your organization's mission may sound logical, but Andresen reminds us that audiences are much more likely to stick around when you begin by reaching out to their values, feelings and desires rather than your own.

An "audience-based approach" builds a respectful and relational dynamic into your interactions. Keep in mind: values do change, but advocates cannot change them. Rather, look for ways to connect to the existing values, feelings and desires held by a particular group. By "segmenting" your audience and beginning the conversation with an appeal to the things that matter to that group, you will build trust required for meaningful give-and-take down the road. And you will make it much more likely that your constituents will want to act on behalf of your goals when the time is right.

What's more, the media will be more receptive to your issue if they know the public is interested. When media outlets receive several letters to the editor on a given topic, or when an article is on top of “the most emailed list” on their Web site, the media knows it matters to their readers.

Building a constituency of advocates is a process that requires a long-term organizational commitment. The public needs to be adequately informed about the issue before they can act on it. When constituents speak to or write to their policy makers, it is equally important that they are passionate and informed about the issues. Policy advocacy requires a significant investment in public education work because many social issues -- from global warming to school bonds and beyond -- can be seen by some of your target audience as 'not my problem.' People also wrongly assume that they can't make a difference.

Elsewhere, we offer some advice on Message Framing which can help counter some of these challenges. In short, most issues can be effectively framed to give citizens inclined to care an opportunity to get involved.

Plan to build your constituency and to track your progress
You need to plan ahead to define the groups of constituents you want to involve in your cause. ”The American public” is not a constituency; you need to be specific. Who could help you reach your advocacy goals? Which groups would be inclined to support your organization and your cause? Faith-based groups, college-based groups, professional trade associations, members of immigrant communities, and educators—these are examples of groups you could target with your messaging. Additionally, if you are working on legislative advocacy, you will need to mobilize constituents at the state and district level. The more specific you are in articulating your advocacy base, the easier it will be to monitor your progress towards achieving your constituency building goals.

It is equally important to research whether there is an existing constituency for your issue. You might not be the first group to advocate on this issue, and it is only encouraging to learn that there is an existing advocacy base that you could tap into, or other advocacy groups that you could collaborate with. Also, you might learn that there are constituencies who could be predisposed to supporting your issue. Check out the Save Darfur Coalition as an example.

There will be times when you will need a quick reaction from your constituency, such as when you are faced with an impending legislative or executive decision. Having communication systems in place to quickly reach and mobilize your constituents will be critical to generating a timely response. If your resources allow, it is important to have field or grassroots coordinators present in the districts and states where you plan to be active to help mobilize constituents.

It would be ideal to perform a survey or run some focus groups before you start your campaign to learn more about what your constituency knows and feels about your issue. This will help you monitor progress of your public education and outreach efforts. Some reports are already available for you to use.


TIPS

  • Try to make a connection between your issue and values your audience already holds.
  • Keep your constituents informed about the issues; it will help them become effective advocates. But don't overwhelm them with information. One e-mail per month is usually a good practice.
  • Provide your constituents with concrete ways to take action.
  • Celebrate small and big victories with them!
  • Proactively seek feedback about their involvement in the campaign: What are they doing? How are they getting others involved? Encourage them to share their stories with you.