Gridlock at the federal level has reinvigorated some state capitals where lawmakers are becoming more proactive in moving legislation that in some cases mirrors bills stalled in DC.
As this trend continues, organizations should become more engaged in state-level advocacy campaigns. These activities can be as simple as sending a message to state legislators explaining an association or organization’s structure and key policy stances.
All associations and organizations should be meeting and building relationships with their state legislators. Organize “fly-ins” or key lobbying days where members can interact directly with their state lawmakers similar to national fly-in days that take place in DC.
As with national events, make sure that follow-up materials, thank-you messages, and action alert messages can be sent from advocates to their state legislators after the state capital fly-in. Be sure to keep track of state legislation and issue action alerts in support or opposition as needed throughout the year as well.
Members are always looking for help to improve their advocacy techniques and skills. If budgets allow, include an in-person training day before a state capital fly-in. Conducting the training a day before means the information will be current and better retained when members meet with their legislators.
If in-person trainings aren’t an option, create online trainings that can be streamed live or viewed by members at the leisure. Even simple “how to” videos created on a mobile device can give members basic advocacy skills.
Though these basic activities form the backbone of any successful state advocacy presence, there are even more beneficial/advanced activities for state-level advocacy. Organizations should always look for ways to better understand their members. A good way to do this is through surveys of membership looking at demographics, key issues to members, and determining if members know any elected officials and how they’re connected to them.
Surveys like this can be done via a variety of platforms, which have a variety of costs. This information isn’t only helpful to advocacy professionals, but marketing and membership professionals as well. State level staff or field captains should be included in the planning and pushing out of these surveys to membership. Often these surveys are the start of organizations creating or expanding key contact programs.
After collecting information about your membership, find out the opinions of key demographics or the general public. Focus groups and localized surveys provide a snapshot of what people not associated with your organization think about your issues and brand. These groups can aid in improving advocacy messaging and brand-building. They can also provide “out of the box” ways of thinking and even opposition research.
State level advocacy should no longer be ignored or thought of as secondary to federal advocacy efforts. Those legislators who are in the state capitals today could be in Congress in the coming years. Moreover, as these legislators look to grow their influence, they’re certain to begin tackling more high-profile state-level legislation.
In an era of congressional gridlock, this means that state advocacy is bound to only increase in importance. The techniques and tools outlined above can take any state-level advocacy program to the next level.
Kristen Prather is the state director of grassroots programs at the Credit Union National Association.