In the “old days” when I started out on Capitol Hill 20+ years ago, we would be inundated with letters, postcards, and phone calls on important issues. We would have to manually type in the names of all of the constituents who contacted us to register their point of view and send them a letter explaining our Member’s own position on the issue.
Fast forward to 2014. Instead of snail mail, most advocacy campaigns rely on email instead. But do politicians care? Sure, they will say it matters. And offices keep tallies of messages pro and con on issues. So it’s not irrelevant, but it doesn’t have the same impact.
Technology makes it so much easier for the email messages to be sent in the first place — but it also makes it easier for offices to process. We used to spend hours key punching names into an old computer terminal. That drove the point home at a staff level that people cared about the issue. Today so much is automated that the “pain” isn’t felt.
So how do you overcome this?
In a recent article for the Nonprofit Technology Network’s blog, Jo Miles of Food & Water Watch points to a The Advocacy Gap report that explores this issue in more detail. She offers up a series of suggestions that explore changing the focus of campaigns, to spur local action or corporate change that can be used to convince legislative bodies to act. She also encourages uncovering supporters who are willing to do more than just send a simple email and instead engage more actively in the advocacy of an issue. It’s worth reading more from her piece, titled “I emailed my legislator, but do they care?”
The Advocacy Gap study that Jo Miles references in her piece also contains some useful advice. In particular, I want to highlight the following excerpt:
Quality trumps quantity on the Hill. A few personal emails beat hundreds of form emails; calls from a few constituents able to articulate on the phone why they care about an issue and how it affects them are better than calls from hundreds of constituents parroting a talking point; and constituents showing up in person is best.