From the Congressional Management Foundation blog:
Early in my tenure at my first job in Washington, I pitched an idea to my boss. It was 1995 and my opening statement went something like this.
“Hey Boss, you got a minute? There’s this new thing called the World Wide Web, and I think we could use it to get a lot of our supporters to email their Members of Congress.”
Several months later, my organization launched its first legislative action center. It turns out that thousands of other similar organizations did too. As a result, constituent communication with Congress has never been the same. Every year, advocacy groups invest a tremendous amount of time and money to encourage constituents to send Congress millions of generic email messages. Meanwhile, congressional offices have turned to technology as they struggle to respond appropriately and in a timely manner.
To be fair, form email still qualifies as “citizen engagement,” and that’s important because our democracy depends upon an engaged citizenry. But let’s be honest – the result is mostly machines talking to machines rather than really meaningful citizen engagement.
During last week’s Advocacy Leaders Network (hosted by the Congressional Management Foundation and produced by Beekeeper Group) Brad Fitch, CMF’s President and CEO, and a panel of congressional staff pointed out that the time for advocacy strategies to improve is overdue. The solution to this challenge is a modern Congress coupled with modern advocacy.
What is Modern Advocacy?
Modern advocacy strategies foster the formation and strengthening of relationships between constituents and congressional offices. CMF’s recently released public report, “Citizen-Centric Advocacy: The Untapped Power of Constituent Engagement,” suggests that professional advocates should use the following strategies to encourage their supporters to build relationships with their Members of Congress.
– Conduct in-person meetings in the district or Washington, DC
– Attend events in the district
– Host site visits for Members of Congress
– Send PERSONALIZED messages to Congress
What personalized information is Congress looking for?
There’s a clear distinction between TMI (too much information) and the personalized information that Congress seeks. Specifically, CMF research tells us that it is helpful for constituents to provide Congress with issue-relevant and district-specific information that helps Members of Congress to understand local and human impact.
More than 20 years after I nervously suggested to my boss that this Internet thing might just catch on, many advocacy organizations are still using and measuring 1990s tactics such as open-rates and number of form letters sent to Congress. While that may have been meaningful then, it isn’t now. Modern advocates should invest resources in training their supporters to form relationships with Members of Congress through personalized communication and engagement.