A core function of an association is to advocate for its members and industry as a whole. With Capitol Hill in gridlock, associations have shifted their focus from legislators to regulatory agencies, which choose how to interpret and implement existing laws. This strategy currently shows more potential to achieve policy goals, because agencies can change policies even when Congress is unable to pass a bill.
Before a proposed rule can be enacted, however, the agency must solicit public feedback. During that window (typically 60 to 90 days), associations can engage their members and partners to submit comments. The following advocacy tactics can serve associations in any regulatory campaign.
CULTIVATE A HABIT
Associations should engage members in habitual advocacy. Effective associations use a combination of email, social media and text messaging to cultivate this habit. Reach out to members at least monthly and more often when critical issues are being debated. The window for influencing regulations is narrow; simply keeping an email list is not enough when the pressure is on.
INFORM AND ENGAGE ADVOCATES
Successful campaigns educate advocates about the stakes. Communicate the importance of the issue to your membership through a series of emails and text messages. Ask participants to submit comments with personal stories. Emotional anecdotes -- not statistics and theoretical arguments -- win policy debates.
MAKE IT EASY
If you have spent time on regulations.gov, you know it's cumbersome to search rules and submit comments. Less determined -- but valuable -- advocates give up when commenting seems too time-consuming or confusing. Providing a comment-submission widget to members removes barriers to weighing in. A good widget has three key components:
1. A call to action followed by no more than three sentences of explanation. Make your position simple and clear, remembering that most members will read it on a smartphone.
2. Fields for first name, last name and email address. Certain forms also require an address and phone numbers. Request all the information you will need to formally submit the content.
3. A pre-loaded comment that advocates can edit or replace. Some people will share an emotive, personal anecdote. Others won't, but they still contribute to a collective engagement campaign that expresses one position.
SPREAD THE WORD
After advocates submit their comments, encourage them to share their actions on social media and include the link to the comment-submission widget. Create a hashtag that can be easily referenced. Raising the visibility of the issue on Twitter and Facebook drives more people to engage.
In regulatory campaigns, volume and quality are the keys. If you cultivate advocacy as a habit, elicit personal stories and make commenting easy, regulators will hear your position. Until the stalemate on Capitol Hill ends, regulatory campaigns likely offer the greatest return on your advocacy efforts.
Jeb Ory is CEO and co-founder of Arlington, Va.-based Phone2Action, a digital advocacy platform that connects citizens to lawmakers.