Dr. Ximena Hartsock

  Dr. Ximena Hartsock – photo by Tony Powell


In the 2017 Grammy Awards, TV viewers saw a new method of political advocacy. Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, gave an impassioned speech on the unifying power of music. He then called upon “the president and Congress to help keep the music playing by updating music laws, protecting music education and renewing America’s commitment to the arts.” During the speech, 26 million viewers saw a call to action in white text: #SupportMusic. Text Grammy to 52886.

This significant moment showed how advocacy is shifting in the Trump era. Normally, we think of activism as an online to offline flow. Nonprofits tweet, post, advertise, and email online to organize offline actions, like marches and visits to lawmakers. But Portnow did the reverse: he turned passive, offline viewers into online activists. Anyone texting the number immediately received a link to a signup page for information and opportunities to take action.

Essentially, Portnow circumvented the Internet echo chamber. Today’s news and social feeds are personalized to present the posts we’re most likely to click. Thus, we usually see content similar to what we’ve viewed in the past. We wouldn’t see posts from the Recording Academy unless we read about their subject matter regularly.

So online, we’re only likely to reach advocates if they’ve digitally expressed interest in our causes. Offline, the world isn’t curated to our beliefs and we’re exposed to more ideas. The challenge is to meld the two worlds into one, as Portnow did. He motivated thousands of viewers to pull out their phones and send a text message.

What does this mean for nonprofit advocacy? Here are a few ideas for your next campaign.

Empower supporters to act when they are fired up

Town hall meetings, radio shows, and speaking gigs are opportunities to motivate action. At the end of a great speech, people always wonder how they can help. Tell them to pull out their phones and act.

Text messaging is the common denominator

People use different apps and social networks, but every mobile phone can text message. It’s still the most common activity among mobile users. When you employ SMS in your engagement strategy, you exclude no one and raise the odds of participation. The best part? The text message open rate is 99 percent and most texts are read within the first three minutes.

Public policy got its sexy back

People now discuss issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or Border Adjustment Tax in casual settings. This offers tremendous opportunity for nonprofits to rally advocates behind complex causes that were once reserved for grasstops surrogates and lobbyists. What have we learned from President Trump? Keep it simple. Use a concise tagline across your campaign channels. Your advocates don’t need or want pages of legislation to support your cause. They often just need a hashtag.

Meet your advocates and lawmakers where they are

No one advocacy approach fits every lawmaker and advocate. Senator Cory Booker prefers Twitter. Senator Jimmy Duncan prefers one-on-one meetings. Lawmakers and advocates prefer different media for different conversations; accounting for that can maximize your campaign. To make your supporters act and lawmakers listen, your campaigns must offer more than one medium of communication.

Real news starts with personal stories

Major broadcast networks report social media activity as news. As President Trump has proven, tweets can become primetime segments. When your advocates share their personal stories online, they, too, can create news. Lawmakers tell me that they listen carefully to stories from their constituents. One authentic voice can be as valuable as a thousand people marching with signs. Use technology to amplify your advocates’ voices.

Every viewer is a potential activist, and mobilizing supporters could be as easy as asking them to text a number. Whether you’re presenting at the Grammys or speaking at a town hall, give advocates an opportunity to support your cause.

Dr. Ximena Hartsock, co-founder and president, handles innovation and operations at Phone2Action. Involved in social advocacy campaigns since she was 11, she makes the impossible happen on a routine basis. She has held numerous leadership positions in Washington, DC, and is passionate about education and empowering people to take action to make this world better. x@phone2action.com

This article is reprinted from Issue #9 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!

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