Survey of Advocates Reveals Pent-up Frustrations

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June 14, 2015; ConnectivityAdd Media

CQ Roll Call’s survey of some 300 advocacy professionals (including those working for associations) generated some interesting answers:

  • More than half of the respondents said that it is somewhat difficult (and an additional 19 percent said that it was very difficult) to get members involved in advocacy efforts.
  • The obstacles to member engagement in social justice advocacy are not surprising: 56 percent don’t have enough time, 41 percent “don’t understand the need,” 39 percent don’t have the interest or motivation, and 34 percent don’t understand the issues well enough.
  • Grassroots activism is the aspect of advocacy programs of respondents that needs the most improvement (56 percent), compared to social media (37 percent), e-mail outreach (35 percent), webinars and education (27 percent), and coalitions and partners (22 percent).

Interestingly, CQ Roll Call also asked respondents to “vent” about advocacy challenges. Here are some comments worth highlighting from survey respondents that should resonate with nonprofit readers:

What Frustrates You about Your Members

#1: “We can explain the need, and they will acknowledge the issue. Unfortunately, the disconnect happens in the call to action. We make the call, but action is slow or absent. It feels like a general reluctance to stretch beyond the familiar, and to advocate for one’s profession and livelihood.”

#3: “There is a disconnect between state and national issues. Members have difficulty getting up and speaking out without fear of reprisal and don’t have time. Too much is being demanded of too few. Those who do the work are burning out fast.”

#5: “Free riders: those who should be active, but are not, yet their constituents and organizations receive the benefits of successful advocacy efforts.”

#11: “The feeling among members that their voice doesn’t really make a difference.”

#14: “Cutting through the noise…even when we do reach people, our most engaged members are not motivated to take action on advocacy. They see it as “someone else’s problem,” or the duty of the paid staff.”

What Frustrates You about Officials

#22: “The do-nothing, know-nothing Congress.”

#23: “The lack of willingness of political leaders to listen.”

#28: “The polarized environment. Money talks, and in our work, our information and relationships are our currency (not PACs). Congressional members don’t really listen or learn. More and more nonprofits are taking an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach on investments in lobbying, PACs, and partisan activity. It taints all of us.”

#32: “It is difficult and frustrating to get members association engaged when gridlock is preventing needed and meaningful legislation passed into law. Many association members (unfortunately) feel, ‘why bother—nothing we do will have an impact.’”

#34: “Short attention span on Capitol Hill and, even more, the inability to see the big picture. The failure to connect everyday events/policies/rules to larger and more consequential trendlines.”

#35: “Congress can only concentrate on one issue at a time.”

What Frustrates You about Advocacy

#38: “Lots of noise! It is hard to be heard among the many other people claiming, ‘the sky is falling.’ How do we advocate reasonably and responsibly, for impact, as opposed to generating distress and exhaustion?”

#41: “Too many organizations claiming space but not truly doing the work.”

#47: “We have ongoing struggles with consistent funding for strategic advocacy. Philanthropy often wants to dictate an issue focus or a geographic focus, and their interests are not necessarily what is really needed to move a policy agenda. Organizations need more flexibility to do what is strategically best.”

#55: “I think email is old news, yet we haven’t figured out a better way to really get the word out—because social media is that, it is social.”

#56: “Getting internal alignment on priorities and enough time to plan before we dive into executing a campaign.”

#57: “At the federal level, I put effort into crafting a message and telling a compelling story, only to be met by noncommittal faces of staffers, making the experience feel empty. At the state level, legislators attempt to legislate issues that they don’t seem to understand—or worse, intentionally misunderstand. My organization’s lobbying efforts are intentionally nonpartisan, but predictably break down on political lines. People I would vote for line up against issues I fervently support and vice versa.”

#62: “People feel less inclined to speak up because they aren’t sure it will make a difference anyway, given the partisanship and gridlock in Congress. That partisanship and gridlock hurts my ability to get my organization to invest in advocacy efforts.”

#63: “There’s so much wrong in the world, that it is hard to get our folks motivated without sounding like the sky is falling.

If readers can’t see their organizations’’ advocacy challenges in these responses, we don’t know what to say. We would like to hear from readers what your biggest pent-up frustrations are about your organization’s advocacy—Rick Cohen

  • Michelle Jacobson

    I am among the first group of 18-year olds to vote after the voting age requirement was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1971. I have proudly voted in every election – national, state and local – ever since. I am very aware of the issues and have been very politically active at times in my life. I get dozens of electronic calls to action per day. I used to respond. I stopped responding, not because I didn’t feel my voice was heard, but because the call to action elicits a call to donate. I understand the need to raise money, but lately I feel like the call to action is ONLY about finding likely donors.