Friday, October 30, 2009

Engaging Members & Supporters in Grassroots Lobbying

Many associations and advocacy non-profits engage in lobbying. What sets them apart however from corporations who also lobby is that they have an important asset at their disposal: a membership & supporter base. Understanding this concept, earlier in my career as the Director of External Communications for the Canadian Construction Association, I coordinated a nation-wide campaign initiative to engage CCA members into the 2004 federal election.

Faced with frustration at the lack of attention CCA was receiving from federal legislators regarding its issues, I was assigned with a strategy to raise the association’s profile. Undertaking a full year effort to identify construction industry champions on Parliament Hill and opportunities where significant legislative advances could occur, I developed a strategic plan that included the following:

  1. An interactive website was developed especially where the media could learn about construction issues and members could login specifically to a special area of the website to download a series of manuals and ideas on how to influence candidates in their region.

  2. A specific communications campaign to the Members was undertaken to educate them on the election and how their involvement could make all the difference.

  3. Options for sharing content were provided and members were also trained/ encouraged to forward on news of the campaign to colleagues.

Over the course of a year, I succeeded in earning the association an invitation to participate in consultations with the federal government over reforms to the Bankruptcy Act. Approaching the policy developers of each of the five federal parties present in Parliament, I also succeeded in having aspects of the CCA’s position reflected in each of the party platforms during the 2004 general election.

Now...it is important to note that all this occurred before the rise of social media and social networking. I am currently experimenting means of how these grassroots campaigns can be all that more improved with interesting results. Now, with the expanding world of social media, lawmakers are creating Twitter accounts. Granted, the person actually doing the tweeting probably isn’t the lawmaker, but this does provide another avenue, on top of paper, phone calls and emails, to communicate with elected officials. Other effective means of grassroots advocacy is occurring through specially made applications that permit sharing of content and as a result, engage other supporters as well.

Whatever your strategy, a grassroots advocacy campaign will need to consider the key elements of what will engage and motivate supporters towards your cause.

Give us a call for more information!
Mark Buzan is Principal of Action Strategies, a GR Consultancy for non-profits. If you have questions on how you feel your organization could benefit from legislative monitoring services or even undertaking a grassroots advocacy initiative. Subscribe now to his Lobbying tips newsletter at www.actionstrategies.ca

Best practices in Media Relations: The Canadian Convenience Stores Association

In late September, Action Strategies was engaged by the Canadian Convenience Stores Association (CCSA) to assist them in a Quebec-wide awareness campaign to lower the taxes on legitimate cigarettes to combat the sale of contraband tobacco in the hands of youth. Concerned by studies that upwards of 30% of the tobacco in the hands of minors was originating from illegal sources, I undertook a campaign of identifying journalists in the Outaouais region who would be interested in covering the story.

To be most effective and ensure CCSA received the value they deserved, the following tactics were undertaken:

  1. Lists of very targeted journalists were developed: Good media relations requires good lists! Before sending out a press release, I make certain to qualify a list for the right contact information and to ensure the list or coming release is appropriately targeted to the identified journalist interest.

  2. A specialized email tracking system is used to distribute communiques: I believe in going one step further than simply sending out via email or fax a news release. Too often, it is far too easy for a communique to be lost in the morass of email/ mass communications an average media outlet receives in a day. To be most effective, Action Strategies uses our specialized distribution system. Once a communique is sent, I know exactly which journalists have received and opened my message. When I conduct my follow up calls, I know as well which links they have clicked upon and as a result, I can gage their interest.

  3. Follow up, Follow Up, and more Follow up! Journalists are a busy bunch. Merely leaving a message or relying on an email message is no guarantee the media has received your invite. It is certainly not enough for me to ally the concerns of my clients that the media will take interest. In as much as it is possible, I endeavor to connect personally with each and every contact on my list conveying the importance of the story or the "pitch" as we say. In delivering this pitch, I use the principles I addressed in a blog posting from one year ago: "Pitching by Phone"

Undertaking these tactics for the CCSA, Action Strategies successfully organized a press conference and radio interviews that secured interviews on:

  • Le Droit

  • TAG Radio FM

  • Revue de Gatineau

  • TVA (television)

  • We can do the same for your organization as well! Contact us now for a quote on our media relations services to non-profits and associations.
    Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Strategic Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy for non-profits and associations. Make sure to contact him for advice on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing a public relations campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Can traditional networking compete with Social Networks? Recruiting Members in the Facebook Age

    Being a member of a business association or volunteering for a charity used to be the ultimate ways to network -- that is, until LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter came along! How can your membership-driven organization survive and even thrive within a landscape of always-on social networking? These are questions I know that trade association executives are facing these days particularly as they attempt to reach out and recruit Generation Y into the leadership of their board and into their staff. Added to this challenge is that for many associations, the perceived value their members receive from their annual dues comes from the opportunity to connect with colleagues, broaden their knowledge of the field and possibly network to build their business. However, in a downturned economy, chances are that members will be looking to other means outside of association events to make these connections.

    The key to "bums in seats" at association networking events relates to engaging your members and supporters. To compete and ensure they remain engaged, you must make sure that you provide value to your members and donors and if you’re already providing value, you must make sure you communicate that value. Members, and especially Gen Yers are very savvy "consumers", electronically connected, and they are looking for value.

    Communicating that value will require non-profits to undertake a paradigm shift. In an internet age where your potential market for support is bombarded for appeals for help from thousands of causes, non-profits need move away from mass appeals and work towards narrow casting their message. In other words, addressing messages that directly appeal to the individual.

    If you are looking to learn more on this subject, I fully encourage you to register for our November 4th webinar on how non-profits can use social media to build rewarding networking opportunities for their members and supporters.

    Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service strategic communications, public relations and public affairs consultancy for non-profits and associations. Find him on Twitter at @markbuzan.

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    Keeping busy association members active and interested

    Quipped from an excellent article I found from the Education and Training Unit for Democracy and Development (a South African based non-profit) that deals with a challenge many associations face comes an interesting consideration: What are you doing as an organization to keep your members engaged and involved. Many professional associations face this challenge and the need to address this challenge becomes all the more relevant when your association relies on volunteer power, your members keep very busy schedules and even more so when membership in your professional association is not a regulated requirement.

    Keeping members active

    Many organisations lose members as fast as they recruit them. There are common problems we all have in keeping members involved and active. Here are some typical ones:

    The organisation's meetings are long and boring
    Members do little other than to listen to leaders talk
    A small clique has all the power and does not encourage others to get involved
    Members are not valued and are never thanked or praised for the work they do
    Members feel useless or frustrated
    The organisation has no projects that members can be involved in
    Members feel that they are getting nothing out of the organisation.

    People usually join an organisation because they want to do something for their community. But they also want something out of being a member. You should find out what motivates members and make sure you manage them so that they stay motivated and involved. Members are usually motivated by:

    Feeling that they are valued by the organisation and making a contribution
    Opportunities to learn new skills or get education about issues that interest them
    Working on issues that will improve their lives or the lives of their families and communities
    Feeling part of a team
    Activities that entertain them or add to their social life
    Rewards in terms of status, personal development or access to employment opportunities.
    Here are some of the things you should do to keep members motivated and involved:

    1. Do an introductory induction workshop for all new members so that they understand the organisation and its work

    2. Welcome and introduce all new members at the beginning of each meeting

    3. Run regular education and development sessions for all members - either as part of regular meetings or in special workshops

    4. Encourage members to get involved in projects and campaigns

    5. Give people responsibilities and tasks and team them up with experienced members - they will feel useful and valued

    6. Thank people and praise them in meetings for work done

    7. Structure your meetings so that they are exciting and everyone gets a chance to participate

    8. Organise social events for members such as picnics, parties and outings

    9. Leaders should spend time talking with members and getting to know them

    What are your thoughts and experiences?

    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    Want to Learn Social Media for NonProfits? "Working Knowledge" Webinar Series Now Launched

    I promised it would be here and I've kept my promise. Action Strategies has teamed up with Wild Apricot, the internet's leading integrated set of web tools combining membership, event and website management for associations, clubs, online communities, membership website, non-profit organizations and other groups. How can your membership-driven organization survive and even thrive within a landscape of always-on social networking?
    Being a member of a business association or volunteering for a charity used to be the ultimate ways to network -- that is, until LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter came along! What kind of event will generate interest? How will you get the word out? And how will follow-up with attendees to make sure your hard work doesn't end with simply having a great event? For charities, it seems there are more causes than ever making the ask for a shrinking amount of people's hard earned money. How will your organization ensure fundraising success for now and for the future? These are all questions I hear often as a constant preoccupation for non-profits, charities, and associations. Over the course of November and the first week of December, a three-part webinar series will be delivered covering all the aspects of how your organization can:

    1. Leverage Social Media to double the networking value your members and supporters can receive from your organization
    2. Double event attendance at fundraisers or your next convention through effective public relations techniques
    3. Magnify and monetize your fundraising initiatives through sound and savvy communications techniques

    So...I'd love to see you all out for what should prove to be an interesting learning series. Best of all, it's FREE! So what have you got to lose? Click on the links above and register your spot now.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    If I haven't already mentioned, there's Twitter

    I feel I must go into remiss...I have not been posting as much as I would normally like. That being said, do not believe I have been offline at all! More often than not, I am on Twitter daily posting interesting links and tidbits of information I find on Twitter.

    I invite you to check out my postings at http://twitter.com/markbuzan
    . Work is full steam ahead on my new book, "Social Media for NonProfits and Associations" and a new webinar series is set to be launched in two weeks on the subject as well.

    In the meantime, please do write your comments for ideas and requests on articles!