by Jeb Ory | April 01, 2017

Today’s associations face an incredibly challenging landscape of building, engaging and maintaining their membership. With increased access to information, current and prospective members are demanding that organizations play a more visible and quantifiable role in advancing their fields. What’s more, those professionals are expecting associations to provide opportunities that allow them to engage on key issues.

One way to truly make an impact with members is to build an effective advocacy campaign. Formulating a year-long engagement strategy that keeps them involved with the association is a key element to driving successful engagement when urgent industry issues arise.

The advocacy calendar is the foundation for regular communication throughout the year. Engagement can begin early with a “Nice to Meet You” campaign wherein advocates introduce themselves to elected officials at local, state and federal levels. In August, it’s a good idea to thank representatives for their service, and in December, your group can send holiday greetings. During election years, associations can also lead initiatives to encourage voting participation. Thoughtful messaging is as fundamental as it is considerate. It helps keep an association top of mind with members, increases influence and ultimately primes elected officials to take immediate action when called upon.

For many organizations, designing and leading campaigns that advance their industry or mission are crucial. This can be achieved in a number of ways.

Building a Movement. The American Society of Interior Designers communicates with its membership at least three times per month. Text messages break through the morass of emails, and the association has found that text-messaging tools generate a much higher response rate. Texts create more of a direct connection, one that encourages community members to take immediate action and empowers them with the tools to also engage friends and colleagues.

Promoting Engagement. Organizations that focus on establishing a foundation for engagement throughout the year tend to be more successful when it comes time to take action on specific issues. The National Association of Manufacturers does this in a variety of ways. For example, on a recent lobby day, the association’s CEO issued a call to support trade legislation by encouraging everyone present at the keynote dinner to contact lawmakers from their smartphones. Approximately 70 percent of those in attendance participated, and thousands of communications were sent. The organization also uses technology to encourage members to vote in upcoming elections. This is of great importance because if association members don’t vote, the organization’s influence on local and federal policy could be limited.

A Call to Action. The Professional Beauty Association uses advocacy initiatives throughout the year to cultivate engagement with its members. Regular communication paid off last year when it came time to rally members in support of the passage of Indiana’s House Bill 1172, which sought to clarify the definition of cosmetology. The association uses a variety of channels to communicate with its members, including text and social media messages. For its “Support HB 1172” campaign, however, it chose a different approach; it tested using an image in an e-blast rather than sending a message with text. More than 300 members participated in the grassroots effort and, to the association’s pleasure, the bill passed in March. The campaign was successful because association members saw and understood the tangible impact of the bill, they felt a sense of urgency, the campaign was simple, and the tools to take action were easy.

The Follow-Through. Many savvy associations regularly use technology to communicate with members and establish a foundation for successful advocacy engagement. But advocacy doesn’t have to—and really shouldn’t—end after members have taken action. Associations can maintain participation among members by keeping them informed of the outcomes of their actions and providing more opportunities for them to engage with issues that matter to your group and industry.