Turn Your Advocacy Message Into Member Action

Advocacy Message April 17, 2019

Communication that appeals to stakeholders’ emotions can spur them to get involved with your association’s advocacy initiatives.

With so many available communication channels, your association’s advocacy messages are reaching more people than ever. Chances are you are trying to appeal to a diverse group of stakeholders. How do you engage with your members and inspire them to take action?

The key is to persuade them by reason and motivate them through emotion. To do this, associations must tap into members’ personal values, which should be motivational, widely shared, stable, and enduring. By hitting on these attributes, you will ensure that your message will inspire your members not only to act but also to share it with their networks.

This message hit home for me not long ago, when the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages tweeted about a bill in Maryland, my home state, that would allow classes in computer programming to receive foreign language credit. As a naturalized U.S. citizen who learned English (and three other languages) as a foreign language, I found the idea completely absurd. And the fact that it would affect my children’s future—and potentially limit their ability to learn another language and be exposed to a different culture—just made me angry.

Professional communicators, especially on advocacy issues, spend a lot of time trying to convey facts and show their practical effects on stakeholders, yet they often fail to identify people’s feelings. Stakeholders’ feelings present the best opportunity to connect with their personal experience to elicit an emotional response that’s aligned with their core values.

In this situation, ACTFL hit on my personal experience and got an emotional response. With one short tweet and a clear call to action, CEO Howie Berman told me that if I didn’t act right away, children’s opportunity to learn a foreign language could be in jeopardy. I felt as if we were being robbed of something of great value.

Lead with empathy, try to put yourself in their shoes, and consider what they value and care about. Then spell out what they need to do protect it.

I knew I had to channel that anger into action, and with just a few clicks from my phone, I contacted my representatives and joined other voters who felt the same way about the bill. I also posted articles on all my social media accounts and texted other parents in Maryland who might have an interest in the issue.

But I could not stop there. All of a sudden, my social media activism transformed into full-blown, real-life activism. I reached out to one of my state representatives when I ran into her at the grocery store. We have known each other for years, so I felt comfortable asking her to think carefully when she votes on this bill; it will affect her children, who are as young as mine. I spoke to her as my representative but also as a fellow mother who is engaged in her children’s education.

Some people might think that making this type of connection is nearly impossible, as many struggle with balancing the rational and emotional levels. Especially nowadays, we tend to be data-obsessed, which can sometimes lead to data overload and confusion. Don’t get me wrong. Data is great, but only when it is actionable and supports your cause.

Before reaching out to your members, ask yourself: How will this issue affect them? What is at stake? How will it affect the future of their profession or other communities? Lead with empathy, try to put yourself in their shoes, and consider what they value and care about. Then spell out what they need to do protect it—call their representatives, host fundraisers, testify. Make it clear and easy for them.

Next time you brainstorm with your team about an effective advocacy campaign, keep in mind what you’re asking for and who you should be talking to. Are you talking to NASCAR dads, Cuban millennials, or soccer moms? Set a behavior change objective and build communications that are positive and personally relevant.