How can your members know your organization is involved in advocacy and what advocacy actions to take unless you tell them? The answer is, they can't. That's why an advocacy marketing plan is critical to your grassroots advocacy efforts BEFORE you launch your advocacy campaigns.
In the past few years, leading nonprofit organizations have had an epiphany.They used to treat member retention and fundraising strategies as distinctly different disciplines (often developed and executed by different staff members). Now, they have come to recognize that focusing on, and dedicating resources to, an altogether different metric—member engagement—drives both retention and fundraising to whole new levels.
The reason for this is easy to grasp, yet most organizations are stuck in the "same way we've always done it mentality." If that's the case with your organization, please consider the following:
1. The old way of doing things is less effective.
According to the Forbes Group:
"With the advent of more difficult economic times and the maturing of the more skeptical baby boomer population, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the membership growth upon which the health of associations depend. The traditional, comfortable ways that associations have been run in recent decades are becoming less effective in ensuring steady, long-term membership growth. In the past, membership growth was produced by employing sales tactics, such as slogans, contests, giveaways and razzle-dazzle. The membership prospect of today and tomorrow requires a more sophisticated appeal."(Source: Membership Drives Need Sophisticated Appeal, Forbes Group, 2014)
If you aren't growing your membership, there are fewer members to retain. And you are asking more and more of that dwindling number. More frequent appeals certainly don't help. You need to change your fundraising strategy.
Social Media Was Made for Nonprofits
We love it, and we hate it. But regardless of how you feel about social media at any given moment, it’s here to stay. The great news for nonprofits is that social media is custom made for your mission because it allows you to have a consistent and meaningful connection with your donors. There is no market more suited for a social media platform than the nonprofit industry.
Generic Messaging is a Thing of the Past
It no longer makes sense to send out a generic message to a broad audience; this same old generic message is simply not going to be successful. Think about a recent email that you received from a company. Did it resonate with you? Did it direct you to visit the website or take the action that the company was looking for? If the message was not developed to target a certain segment of people, chances are, you glanced at the message and then deleted it. It is rare for a generic message to really resonate with everyone that it is sent to.
One particularly interesting trend is that while it is still a top three reason for joining a membership or trade organization, advocacy has dropped to tied for third along with “learning best practices in their profession”.
Here is how the top 5 reasons for joining have tracked over the five years the survey has been conducted.
Source: 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report. Marketing General Incorporated. www.marketinggeneral.com
Why the drop in advocacy as a reason to join? One clue may be found in looking at the top three reasons cited for members that do not renew. They are:
1. Budget cuts/economic hardship of the company (18%).
2. Lack of engagement with the organization (15%).
3. Unable to justify membership costs with any significant ROI (11%).
All three of the concerns can be mitigated by communicating the value of your organization to your members and following through with actions and programs that prove your claims. In fact, because your membership is basing their annual decision to renew or not based on their perceived value of what your organization is providing, it is essential for you to do it.
Which brings us to the question of why advocacy is losing some of its luster as a reason to join an organization or retain membership. If we look at the other four top reasons to join an organization, we see that they are relatively easy for members to attach value to. It’s not hard to see if networking opportunities are bringing new clients or prospects, or if access to specialized information, learning best practices and acquiring new skills are enhancing one’s career or making a member organization stronger. The hard one for most people to attach immediate value to is advocacy.
There’s a reason for this. Most organizations tend to communicate about their advocacy efforts in two ways:
High level communications
Frequently used in membership solicitation and often reduced to a bullet or a few lines of copy — “We’re your industry advocate”, “We represent our industry at public hearings”, etc.
Overly granular communications
What seems obvious to you may not be to your membership. The fact that your organization is working to ensure a piece of legislation passes (or is defeated) is certainly an act of advocacy. But your members may not see it that way unless you explicitly position your action as advocacy (e.g., “Our recent appearance on capital hill to help ensure the legislation passed (or was defeated) is another example of [your organization’s name here] advocacy in action”).
If you want your organization to be credited for your advocacy efforts by existing and potential members, you need to make communicating about it a priority. Highlight your efforts in e-mails, press releases and social media. Consider creating a campaign around the value your organization offers to members. And definitely include your advocacy efforts in your membership renewal outreach. (According to the 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, individual member associations using 7 or more contacts in their renewal series are more likely to report overall membership renewal rates at 80% or higher.) Including advocacy as one of the greatest strengths of your organization and one that yields a payback for your membership can only help keep your renewal rates high.
A Clear, Measurable Message with a Strong Call to Action Gets Powerful Results Every Time
As co-founder and creative director at 19 Oaks Strategic Sales & Marketing, I have worked in the realm of marketing for nonprofits over the years. I have found that nonprofits often share traits that are admirable, but from a communications standpoint, very problematic.
What Are The Top 3 Reasons Why Members Join Your Association?
According to top association executives in the 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, the top 3 reasons why people join and participate in their groups and associations are:
Why Do Associations Have Such a Hard Time Communicating to Members?
Of course you want to engage your membership and promote the value of your organization at once. But it is surprising how many membership based associations have a hard time telling a story that compels people to take action. It is equally hard, if not more so, to relate the story of value the organization brings to it's members as well. Why is that?
Are you missing out on increased civic engagement in your cause by ignoring this social media channel?
Leadership. Dedication. Creativity. Social Media presence. As the leader or team member of an advocacy group, Chamber of Commerce, or trade association, it is important that you have a strong grasp of these skills and tools to affect pending legislation.