Association Advocacy Needs a Plan in Election Year

Ory_AssociationAdvocacyNeedsaPlaninElectionYear July 12, 2022 By: Jeb Ory

With almost 7,000 state and federal seats up for election in 2022, there’s likely to be an impact on your association’s advocacy efforts. That’s why it’s important to create a communications and response plan around organizational issues that might arise during the election cycle.

It seems every major election has become a high-stakes showdown, and this year is no different. In Washington, control of Congress is once again up for grabs, and the outcome will affect the president’s agenda. At the state level, 46 will hold legislative elections and 36 will hold gubernatorial races, which could alter the policy landscape nationwide.

The takeaway for associations is clear: the 2022 elections are going to impact your issues. The question is what your organization plans to do about it. Smart leadership teams know that strategy and capabilities to elevate their voice are essential as voters go to the polls. Get out the vote (GOTV) and rapid response are two areas that make a meaningful difference.

The State of Government Affairs Survey asked almost 500 government affairs professionals how they will handle the election. More than 90 percent of those who work at associations say their organization will get active in the election. In addition, more than two-thirds (69 percent) plan to advocate on issues, more than half (52 percent) will conduct GOTV efforts, and almost a third (32 percent) will support individual candidates.

Of course, election activity will look different at every organization, based on goals, traditions, and industry conditions. But there are strategies that every association can use to tune up advocacy and help members in 2022.

Communication and Response Plans

When your issues get the spotlight, your association needs a voice, and that means the ability to react quickly. There are almost 7,000 state and federal seats up for election this year, and the number of candidates is several times that number. All of those hopefuls will be debating, speaking at town halls, and taking positions on issues at every opportunity—a very noisy proposition.

Get consensus within your organization on your position, write some basic messaging, and have it blessed in advance. It will enable you to move far faster.

By setting an election-year communications plan, you’ll be ready to rebut or applaud, activating your members and supporters when candidates tread on your turf. Here are some suggestions:

Choose your priorities. Just because it is election season does not mean you have to play defense. With the right combination of advocacy and earned media, you can inject issues into a campaign, along with your association’s point of view. Of course, there will be times when you have to respond to action on the campaign trail. In both cases, choosing the right battles is important. You can’t communicate on everything and remain impactful.

Set your messaging. Get consensus within your organization on your position, write some basic messaging, and have it blessed in advance. It will enable you to move much faster.

Bring facts. Polling, statistics, and industry data are powerful in any debate, and many associations have them in abundance. If you have unique and clarifying information, use it to rebut candidates, focus debate, and bring incontrovertible facts to the conversation.

Monitor the action. Don’t wait for a call from an angry member to get involved. Monitor what candidates are saying in the races that matter to your organization and be proactive.

Improve your tools. When you decide to mobilize your supporters, there are effective tools beyond email. Text messaging has a 99 percent open rate and conversion rates can reach double digits. Yet only four out of 10 respondents who work at associations told us they use text messaging in their advocacy efforts.

Make a GOTV Plan

For many associations, election work is a natural extension of advocacy. GOTV work is important because it is a chance to shine as a resource for your members. Helping your audience register to vote, learn about candidates and races, and get to the polls can be a useful benefit, especially with state election laws changing rapidly. Here are some ideas:

Set an objective. Will your organization help register voters? Will you send out election updates? Will you provide a scorecard that ranks candidates? Gather your leadership and create a tight, realistic plan for what you will do.

Create a hub. Organizations that conduct successful GOTV efforts provide their members with a single resource where they can find what they need. An election center on your website where members can turn to register, learn about candidates, and get polling information is a meaningful member benefit.

Launch a pledge campaign. One popular way to signal you care about the election and that everyone should participate is a campaign asking for a pledge to vote. On Election Day, you can highlight those who fulfilled their pledge on social channels.

While some organizations may be reluctant to wade into GOTV efforts, remember that people need a source of trustworthy information in an increasingly polarized landscape. Membership organizations have the opportunity to be that trusted source.

Jeb Ory

Jeb Ory is cofounder and chief product officer at Capitol Canary (formerly Phone2Action) in Washington, DC.