A Key Contacts Program Leverages The Legislative Relationships That Are Hidden Throughout Your Organization.
Over the past few years, rapid developments in digital and social media have, understandably, placed enormous emphasis on broader mobilization strategies and tactics.
In the process, a powerful advocacy tool has been collecting dust on the shelf: key contacts.
The phrase “key contacts” means slightly different things for different industries or situations. For the purposes of this article we will use key contacts to refer to organizational stakeholders who have (or develop) personal or professional relationships with elected officials and their staff for the purpose of advocating on behalf of that organization’s legislative objectives.
A formal key contacts program (also referred to as “grasstops” or “key influentials”) provides an organized, measureable approach to identifying and managing vital information about the relationships that exist between your organization’s stakeholders and elected officials and their staff. Its success depends on going beyond the mere identification of who your stakeholders know and the ability to access the data meaningfully and quickly.
Here are the vital components of a successful key contacts program:
1. Begin at the end
The more clearly you understand your needs and objectives, the more focused your data capture and management processes will become. While you certainly won’t know every possible need you may eventually have you should have a good idea what issues you are likely to mobilize your stakeholders around now and in the near future.
Contacting elected officials and their staff and advocating your organization’s position is obviously the most valuable thing a stakeholder will do on your behalf but that by no means makes it the only thing they can do. Activities like reading and forwarding emails, hosting or attending town halls or events, sharing messaging with other influential members of the community are also valuable pieces of a successful advocacy program. Identifying the ask (regardless of size) you are likely to make of your stakeholders on the outset will help ensure you capture and manage the data the right way.
2. Be meticulous
Like fuel in an engine, the data you capture will ultimately determine how well your key contacts program runs. A 30-question-long survey will lower your response rate but having to follow up with several piecemeal requests because you forgot to include vital questions won’t help the cause either.
Questions designed to capture stakeholder sentiment on specific issues or organizational initiatives can certainly be useful. While you may find them valuable to include it is highly recommended that you ensure your survey includes questions designed to unearth the following:
- Who do they know? Elected officials (don’t forget that staff relationships are valuable too!) at the federal (and depending on your needs, state) level. Be sure to give stakeholders an opportunity to report relationships with elected officials outside of their districts as well.
- How well do they know them? “Knowing” someone can be a deceptively relative term, especially in politics. Make sure to include follow ups that identify how well they know them like when they last talked to them and how they usually contact them.
- Are they willing to contact them and if so, what methods are they most comfortable using? This may seem overly intuitive but there is a difference between having a relationship with someone and being willing to act on that relationship. Knowing how you can mobilize the assets at your disposal gives you tactical strength you wouldn’t have otherwise.
- How comfortable are they with your messaging? Understanding how comfortable they are with your organization’s messaging can help you proactively increase mobilization response rates by providing training. It can also help identify potential causes of hesitation among stakeholders who have relationships but respond that they are unwilling to use them.
3. Be prepared to manage the data properly
If capturing good data is the crucial fuel that runs your key contacts program, the ability to meaningfully access the information you capture is the steering wheel.
In much the same way it wouldn’t take you long to park and neglect a smooth running sports car with no steering wheel, all of the priceless relationship and sentiment data you collect will be relegated to the advocacy junkyard without a way to interact with it.
Proper management of the data you capture includes the ability to filter responses in as many ways as possible. This will allow you to target stakeholders based on practical combinations of responses and find the ones who live in a specific district and feel strongly about a particular issue, know a targeted elected official and are willing to attend an event and more.
By being able to tailor your communications and mobilization requests you will increase the likelihood they are read and responded to.
Digital and social technologies are now staples of modern legislative advocacy. This means they are highly important tools to have, but it also means it is likely that your opponent’s efforts are mirroring your own. Developing and implementing a key contacts program adds another powerful tool to your advocacy arsenal and gives your organization the edge it needs to ensure its message is heard.