Friday, March 27, 2009

Effectively Involving Your Members in Your Organization's PR and Advocacy

Nonprofit Conversation is now being read in 27 countries! I have been concerned that our content is U.S. centric and have been doing some outreach to nonprofit/NGO leadership in other countries. It doesn't matter where you live, if you are engaged in nonprofit activities, the challenges are often quite the same. Below, Mark Buzan of Action Strategies (Canada) provides advice on effective public relations (PR) and advocacy. Mark is our first international contributor! Thanks Mark! Bunnie

Effectively Involving Your Members in Your Organization’s PR and Advocacy

by Mark Buzan, Principal, Action Strategies

The success of any nonprofit plan is hugely dependent on how it treats its public affairs. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and has to get creative as sources for revenue are obviously different and harder to come by than traditional profit-making businesses. This said, knowing that your current and prospective members can help you get your message, mission, and needs out to the world at large, is absolutely crucial to the sustainability and future success of your nonprofit. So how do you go about treating your members and your key audiences so as to engage them in advancing your cause – particularly in public relations campaigns? This is important because the “holy grail” of grassroots campaigns occurs when other organizations and individuals become “evangelists” for the message you are promoting.

The same can be said of government relations campaigns and the benefit of utilizing tools that support grassroots campaigns that involve members and rally stakeholders to your cause. Increasingly, it is not enough to bring your issues to government. You have to demonstrate public support for your position. Your organization may be under public attack and need to publicly defend your practices and positions. You may want to shape the governments' policy agenda. To do that, supporters, members, employees, your industry’s customers and/or suppliers need to be mobilized!

More and more, the Internet can be used as a tool to rally support and advance your cause. In a networked society, organizations have no choice but to establish their positions in the online political marketplace. You go on-line to educate, motivate and organize citizens, opinion leaders and government decision-makers to take meaningful off line action. It's a new dimension for advocacy.

But, Internet advocacy and other outreach efforts are still a complement to traditional government relations activities. Communicating your views directly and personally to decision-makers should always be part of any on-going strategy. Below, is a list of some good ideas on how exactly to get your members involved in your nonprofit’s communications and advocacy.

1. Fundraising: One of the most basic and fundamental ways to get your members involved in public relations is creating interactive and mutually beneficial fundraising opportunities and programs. Host an informational walk for a cause. People undoubtedly invite their non-member friends to join them for company. It all starts with one or two more people knowing about your cause, and if the fundraising event is one that they enjoy, they tell others, and so on and so on.

2. Internet: Though this may seem an overused topic in pr these days, it is one of the most effective means of getting your name and cause out there, quicker and to more people than you could ever do with non-internet advertising or pr. Start with an interesting and interactive website and draw members and non-members alike to your site by all means you can think of. Start a blog, involve yourself in relate topic forums, write articles online, and get your current members to do the same.

3. Keep Contact and Hold Attention: By valuing the network you may already have with your current members and clients, you can maximize their individual networks to voice your goals, initiatives, and needs more loudly and far-reaching. Send your members e-newsletters, postcards, and invite them to special events to keep them abreast of all of the exciting things you are doing with your nonprofit. By doing this, you not only keep them constantly engaged with your nonprofit’s presence, but also put yourself at the front of their thoughts when it comes to their casual and professional efforts for the pr and marketing of your nonprofit.

4. Coordinate how you & your members make their presentation to MPs: Last week, I attended an interesting panel discussion held by the CSAE. Three MPs from the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP were present offering input that I have long advised NGO executives. First, have a steady balance between emotion and logic. As I alluded to in a previous post, Tough Economic Times and the Federal Budget, often non-profits come to legislators with a healthy dose of an argument that comes from the heart. The trouble is that is often not enough. There needs to be a solid reason as to why a proposal makes sense and fits into the the agenda of the government.

Also, when considering how to involve members into an advocacy campaign, the options also include sending them to meet various MPs. When doing so, often under a "On the Hill" campaign, make sure they are well prepared with briefing papers that have first been sent to the MPs in advance. Ask the attending member(s) to also bring a copy. Finally and above all, don't assume what an MP knows or doesn't know. Acting as if you know more on a given subject than an MP that may have come from a professional background in that field will only put them off. Assuming they know a given subject when in fact they don't will only frustrate both parties - your volunteer representative and the legislator.

Mark Buzan is Principal of Action Strategies, a Public Relations and Canadian Government Relations Consultancy for non-profits. Subscribe now to his Lobbying and PR tips newsletters at www.actionstrategies.ca/Action_Strategies/Newsletter.html

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