As offices across the country shifted to meeting virtually, so too did the nonprofit sector pivot from traditional advocacy methods. Without losing sight of their missions, many nonprofits started (or continued!) successfully advocating virtually. We spoke with several nonprofit leaders, learning some tips and tricks for effective virtual advocacy.
“The American Lung Association remains focused on empowering our patients and amplifying their voices, but of course, that has taken a number of new turns. Our fly-in was scheduled for the end of March. It became clear at the beginning of that month that we would need to pivot to a virtual advocacy day. We stripped away many of the bells and whistles associated with our advocacy day and instead focused on the basics, including training our volunteers to tell their stories by phone, making sure that Hill offices understood who they would be talking with and what the asks were in advance. We also celebrated our volunteers by urging them to take selfies before their visits and tweet them out to share them proudly.”
- Erika Sward is Assistant Vice President of National Advocacy for the American Lung Association.
“United Way Worldwide provides timely, tangible, and meaningful virtual opportunities for local United Ways and supporters to advocate for our priorities. Over the last few years, we have coordinated digital advocacy campaigns on our health, education, and financial priorities. In the wake of COVID-19, we also adapted our in-person advocacy trainings and Capitol Hill Days to a virtual environment. In June, we organized our first-ever Virtual Advocacy Forum, which included a series of advocacy training webinars on our top policy priorities and culminated in a virtual Hill Day. Over 200 United Way leaders, Board members and volunteers from 35 states participated in the Virtual Hill Day. Financial scholarships were provided to ‘state leads’ to coordinate and schedule the virtual meetings with members of Congress. Overall, this event was a great success and increased engagement from United Ways that cannot normally travel to the state capitol or Washington, DC.”
- Lindsay Torrico is the Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at United Way Worldwide.
“In the ending days of the 2020 legislative session, legislators [in Georgia] proposed a bill that would eliminate the Secretary of State and Board of Elections from sending out absentee ballot request forms. Previously, the Secretary of State sent out absentee ballot requests to all active voters in Georgia. This led to an unprecedented response. A bill restricting the use of authorities to send out absentee ballot requests could potentially be disastrous due to the rise of COVID-19.
“The ACLU of Georgia was the only civic organization to testify at the [state] capitol against this bill. While both Democrats and Republicans admitted the testimony was influential, the voter suppression bill passed committee and headed toward being a law. Knowing the only way to stop this bill was through advocacy, but still considering the safety of people, the ACLU launched an unparalleled virtual advocacy program to contact legislators to vote against the bill. With an avalanche of calls, texts, emails, tweets and every other form of virtual advocacy known, the Chairman was convinced he did not have the votes and recommitted the bill to committee. Without ceasing, the virtual advocacy led to the Chairman not taking further action and the bill died in committee.”
- Christopher Bruce is the Political Director for the ACLU of Georgia.
“In light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, All On The Line-Georgia has shifted its programming and public engagement initiatives to virtual platforms. Since making the shift, I have formed a new initiative called “Issues On The Line.” This effort aims to educate the public on the intricacies and impact of gerrymandering and the redistricting process through the lens of individual issues. Since the program’s inception, we have covered topics such as minority voting rights, healthcare justice, and equality, all while seeing a steadily increasing participation rate. I have been both pleasantly surprised and inspired by the level of engagement we’ve seen with our public engagement efforts. Providing digital advocacy tools while offering virtual programming has, essentially, made it easier for citizens around the state to tune in and take action. Despite the public health crisis, the integrity of democracy continues to be under attack and it is incumbent upon all of us who do this work to ensure that the public remains engaged, informed, and mobilized to push back on every front.”
- Theron Johnson is the Georgia State Director of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
“For us at CT Humanities (CTH), advocacy has had both in-person and virtual components for some time now, so we made the jump to all virtual fairly seamlessly. As an organization that receives and regrants out both state and federal dollars, maintaining strong relationships with our state and federal legislators is extremely important. One way we do this is by sending personalized emails to each state and federal legislator when we make a grant in their district. In turn, we ask all of our grantees to send emails or letters to their legislators thanking them for the funds that made their grant possible and to invite them to the public programs and events that result. We used that information [from a recent survey of cultural institutions] to share with both our federal and state legislators, to make important changes to our granting program to get funding where it was needed most, and to inform us of the webinars to prioritize over the coming months. We’ve used those webinars to continue the dialog with the state’s cultural community, letting them know about funding opportunities and advocacy needs as they arise, and to continue to inquire about the impact of the pandemic on institutions and their evolving needs. We maintain a strong e-contact list, as well as social media presences on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which have also allowed us to be in constant communication with both our legislators and our constituents.”
- Scott Wands is the Manager of Grants & Programs at CT Humanities.
How is your organization approaching virtual advocacy at this time? Let us know in the comments section below!