Mobilizing Your Base and Engaging Supporters For the Moment—and the Long Haul

 

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you understand the power and potential of policy change. If you have a policy, thought-leadership, or government relations team, you know that true societal shifts and those monumental changes we want require advocacy. And advocacy requires, well, advocates.

 

I’ve sat at a lot of tables where the question at hand is, how can we involve our supporters? We have the vision, the mission, the team, the expertise, and the programmatic goal right here, but how should we involve our supporters? What could they do? 

 

Let me take a moment to be upfront: You should only keep reading if you really want to explore the question in the title of this blog. Do you REALLY need your supporters? If you’re willing to consider whether you truly value and require your base to achieve your mission, read on, bold leader.

 

The Heart of the Matter

After that brief aside, let’s get back to the heart of the subject. I’ll start by asking you to think about the initiatives you’ve chosen to resource and pursue over the coming year. I’m guessing they have something to do with fundraising (the money is the mission) and policy initiatives. Those two objectives are—with good reason—where the focus is.

 

I won’t argue with you on the fundraising side. Effectively, everyone at your organization should be and is (even if indirectly) on the fundraising team. Your cause and your mission require money to continue to carry out the work. At Media Cause, we’re always preaching about the breaking down of silos and the intertwined relationship between fundraising and advocacy.

 

What I will challenge you on is whether you truly NEED your supporters and communicate that effectively. Or, framed another way, do your supporters understand that you NEED them? And that really applies to both fundraising and advocacy, but in this case, we’ll focus on the advocacy side of things.

 

Here are three questions I’d like to consider with you:

  • What do you ask supporters to do?
  • How do you communicate their impact?
  • Do you really understand your base?

 

1. What do you ask your supporters to do?

Often, as I hinted at the beginning of this blog, I’ve seen organizations trying to decipher how their supporters could contribute. What would they like to do, what would they do, what’s feasible? How can we make what we (as policy leaders) see as priorities and give them a way to add to it? How can we make this cultural and interesting?

 

One of the best lessons I’ve learned in this field is that people will do even the most menial tasks (sign a petition, for example) *if* you show them why it matters. So that’s the first thing I’d like you to think about. Does it matter? Why does it matter? How will their actions, however small, make an impact? Like they say about kids, people can see through smarmy messaging.

 

At Media Cause, one of our fundamental beliefs of advocacy is the combination of power AND persuasion. Demonstrate public support AND the best argument. And to have the power and public support, you need—you guessed it!—your supporters. Stop thinking of your supporters as an after-thought, and start thinking of them as an integral part of your ability to make impactful arguments to decision-makers. Not “How could they be involved?” but, “Why are our supporters necessary to achieving our goals?”

 

2. Communicating—and reiterating!—impact

Whether you’re a fundraiser or an advocacy professional, communicating impact is your raison d’être, and their reason for staying in your movement. My colleagues and I have worked with the best of the best, but the ones who achieve (and even outpace) their fundraising and policy goals are the ones who consistently remind and thank their supporters for the impact they’re having through the organization.

 

Before moving on, I don’t want you to feel comfortable thinking that because you send an annual report or an end-of-year email, you’re demonstrating your supporters’ impact. I’ve seen plenty of “Year in Review” reports that make it seem like the organization leads the change. The real focus is, and always should be, your supporters—the people who have fueled the fight. And reminding people once or twice a year of what you’ve done does not a reminder of impact make. 

 

Rather, be brave enough to be real with your supporters. Tell them what their money funded. Tell them what their advocacy achieved—or didn’t. And tell them why. Your base should understand why they’re critical to your work, and if they do, they’ll understand themselves as part of the wider, longer movement. We don’t always win, but we might have positioned ourselves to win in the future, and that’s what creating real change is all about.

 

3. Do you really understand your supporters?

Do you really value them? Do you know who they are? Not in the cold, database metrics (although those are important), but in real life? Do you know what motivates them? Do you know WHY they are part of your movement? Do you know why they care about what you do?

 

You’ve likely heard the term personas, and you may think of it as something marketers throw around to sound fancy and create buzz. But really, the core of personas is getting at the motivation of the people who are at the absolute heart of what you do. And the people who are at the absolute heart of what you do are the ones who are the most loyal, the least tiring, and unceasingly dedicated to seeing your mission accomplished. Whether they’re part of your base yet or not, they are the people who are necessary in making it happen.

 

Why?

Our Senior Vice-President of Creative, Amy Small, has always said that the real question anyone should ask is, “Why?” Why is this what needs to happen? Why do you need me to be involved? Why can we not move forward without this? Why now? She’s had years of experience working with the most successful for-profit and nonprofit brands, but her message is always the same. “Why?” is the most important question.

 

So my invitation for you is whether or not you’ve really considered the WHY? Do you reinforce the WHY? Do you understand the WHY of your base? Why do they see you as an avenue for impact? Why do they continue to support and advocate with you? And ultimately, do you know their why? Why are they close to your issue? And do you remind them consistently of those core shared values? 

 

In closing, I’d like you to courageously consider how and whether you value your supporters. Do you know why your supporters are necessary? Do you consistently show them the proof of their impact? And do you really know—and remind them again and again—of their why? These three questions should be benchmarks for your advocacy and fundraising programs, and if you can’t answer one or any of them, that’s your cue to explore the fundamentals of your messaging around your mission. We believe in you, but do you believe in them?

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