Member Communication Strategy: Tips to Amp Up Outreach
For organizations large and small, member communication is the key to activating your people ahead of elections and key legislative votes. Depending on the size and nature of your group, your membership may be 1) unified around clear shared goals, or 2) dedicated to the same overarching values but at odds when it comes to the means for achieving them.
No matter your situation, take the time to talk to your members about their priorities and experiences to understand the issues that drive them. By building a robust member communication strategy, you can get to the heart of the values that unify your members and compel them to take action on your organization’s behalf. Below are some tips for taking your member communications to the next level.
Plan ahead. Building an effective member communication program takes time and planning. Get organized early so that you’re not scrambling to figure out goals, budgets, messaging, targeting, and the overall scope of your program at the last minute. Get buy-in on your primary goal and make sure every component of your program is designed to help achieve that objective. If you’re thinking about engaging in a statewide ballot measure, have conversations a year in advance of that election (or even earlier). If you’re flirting with the idea of activating your members ahead of a school board election, start planning and budgeting months ahead if you can.
Be relevant. If you want your message to resonate, be sure to focus on issues your members care about. Your organization and membership don’t live in a vacuum—make sure you’re responding to the current climate to avoid coming off as tone-deaf. This might mean ditching your planned organic content for the week when an unexpected news story (say, a global pandemic) rocks the country.
Do the work. To figure out what issues your members care about, ask them. Take the time to survey your members regularly to keep your finger on the pulse of your organization. At the time of this writing, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic on top of an important moment in dismantling systemic racism in the U.S. Talk to your members to figure out how they’re processing and responding to these events so that your organization can be proactive in adjusting priorities and goals. If you don’t have the budget to set up a robust survey to glean data, don’t shy away from gathering anecdotal information through email, Facebook/ActionSprout polls, Facebook Live question-and-answer sessions, and beyond. Listen and respond to the learnings.
Use testimonials. Testimonials that feature members talking about their experiences with an issue can make all the difference in your political or advocacy campaign. A personal story can prompt members to support a candidate or reconsider their take on an issue. Pin down storytellers whose voices will resonate with your membership. If you’re using a testimonial for direct mail, be sure to get high-resolution photos of the person you feature (along with written sign-off on any quotes you attribute to them before a piece goes to press).
Highlight the stakes. Don’t beat around the bush. Be crystal clear in your member communications about the stakes around every election or legislative vote. Be direct with your membership about the consequences of different outcomes so that folks are likelier to get involved and engage their personal networks.
Prioritize goals over tactics. Figure out your goals before you talk tactics. If your goal is to increase turnout among your membership in a pivotal primary, figure out which mediums will be most effective and cost-efficient in reaching people. If you have small membership base, maybe this means sending personalized mail to folks on top of emails. If that base is larger, do you have the budget to do mail and digital ads in tandem to amplify your message? Can you afford to reach everyone, or do you need to segment your list to focus on activating a core constituency?
Be consistent. Talk to your membership regularly—not just when you want something. Find the sweet spot, whether it’s communicating via email once a week, hosting a weekly Facebook Live, or making phone calls once a month. If your members don’t feel connected to your organization, they’ll be less likely to be invested in your organization’s latest campaign or cause.
Keep it simple. Never assume your membership is as well-versed as you are on an issue. For example, if you’re running a national environmental organization, there’s a good chance your members are familiar with fracking. However, that doesn’t mean every member shows up to dinner parties armed with talking points on the precise chemical compounds involved in the fracking process. Don’t get too deep in the weeds when you’re engaging your members—keep your message clear and simple to appeal to everyone.
Get innovative. If your typical tactics for reaching your members aren’t working, don’t be afraid to shake things up. Try out different methods for breaking through and don’t fear failure. This process ideally involves asking your members how they’d like to hear from you—via email, mail, phone, TikTok (hopefully not), or another medium?
Have paid and organic communications components. Paid communications are a great option for engaging your membership, but don’t let a small budget be the enemy of a strong program. In addition to any paid tactics (e.g. direct mail, digital advertising), be sure to consider how you can leverage earned media or organic communications as a layer to reach your members (e.g. Facebook posts, emails).
Think about the ladder of engagement. Whenever you’re engaging your members, you should always provide resources for them to learn more or get involved. This could mean having a number they can text, a website that digs deeper into an issue, or a form where they can sign up to receive updates on how they can show up for a cause.
Stay flexible. In an ever-changing world, don’t be steadfast with your member communication goals. Your goals can and will change along with the political atmosphere, and it’s okay to adjust course. Just be sure to keep track of your goals and how they evolve so you can effectively track your progress in achieving them.
Do you have more questions about building an effective member communication program? Whether you’re a local union, a statewide advocacy group, or a national organization, we want to hear from you! Drop us a line.