Direct interactions with elected officials have more influence on their decisions than other methods of communication
In three surveys of congressional staff over a 10-year span, 99 percent (2004), 97 percent (2010), and 94 percent (2015) said that “in-person visits from constituents” would have “some” or “a lot” of influence on an undecided lawmaker.
Congress places a high value on groups and citizens who have built relationships with the legislator and staff.
In an era where mass email campaigns are easier and less expensive to conduct, congressional staff report they place a higher value on those constituents and organizations that engage in repeated, more interactive, and substantive communications and meetings. When asked what advocacy groups should do more of to build relationships with the office, 79 percent of staff surveyed said “meet or get to know the Legislative Assistant with jurisdiction over their issue area” and 62 percent said “meet or get to know the District/State Director.”
Citizen advocates are more influential and contribute to better public policy when they provide personalized and local information to Congress.
Nine out of ten (91 percent) congressional staffers surveyed said it would be helpful to have “information about the impact the bill/issue would have on the district or state.” However, only nine percent report they receive that information frequently. Similarly, 79 percent said a personal story from a constituent related to the bill or issue would be helpful, but only 18 percent report they receive it frequently.
Citizens have significant potential to enhance their advocacy skills and influence Congress.
CMF discovered a significant gap between typical constituents compared to those citizens who studied advocacy techniques and practiced what they had learned.
Lessons for advocacy organizations:
Organizations should embrace a citizen-centric advocacy model.
This research suggests groups should refocus their energies on their citizen-supporters. With citizens integrated into the heart of advocacy efforts, Congress will be able to better understand and appreciate the impact of their decisions on constituents affected by those decisions.
Organizations should embrace relationship building as a metric for success to augment other measurements.
Relationship-building metrics are a more accurate reflection of progress in grassroots advocacy; and therefore, advocacy groups should seek solutions to overcome organizational challenges that prevent the collection and usage of relationship-building metrics.
Organizations should invest time to teach citizen-advocates.
As key players in the public policy process, grassroots organizations have a responsibility to help their supporters understand their important role in democracy.
iCivics.org has resources for both teachers and students about how government works by having them experience it directly. Through our games, the player steps into any role – a judge, a member of Congress, a community activist fighting for local change, even the President of the United States – and does the job they do.
The Khan Academy has put together a video playlist about how the government works in the United States. Topics include the electoral college, primaries and caucuses, social security, SOPA and PIPA, histories political parties, and more.
The Bill of Rights Institute works to engage, educate, and empower individuals with a passion for the freedom and opportunity that exist in a free society. The link provided goes directly to resources where you can find the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, and so much more.
Find out as much as you can about your area of interest. While you may recognize an urgent need for an issue, learning more only helps you to be more effective in sharing what’s important to you with others.
Share your thoughts and ideas with others. Chances are there are other people in your community that have recognized the same need. Take a look at some ways you can connect with others and act together toward a common goal.