Recruiting and Retaining School Choice Advocates
When I started grassroots work in Georgia, I didn’t realize how hard it would be. I came into the school choice movement quite green and naïve. For the most part, any person that I spoke to about the issue, especially parents, seemed to be supportive. My naiveté led me to believe that if I just put together some workshops —-voila— a movement of epic proportions to empower parents would begin.
Boy, was I wrong. I quickly learned that people aren’t moved to act on an issue unless they are directly impacted or unless they are put in a position to act in a meaningful way.
After 8 years of being a school choice advocate, I’ve learned a lot. Today, I am happy to share a few of the lessons that I’ve learned about recruiting and retaining advocates.
Mix Merriment with the Mission. Keep in mind that, by nature, people want to have fun and enjoy themselves. Be sure to create events and workshops that are not solely focused on your issue, but that are also enticing and enjoyable. Sure, there is always an anomaly, but for the most part, people want to be entertained and engaged while being educated. For example, host a workshop at a kid-friendly venue or at an outside venue and give away ice cream. Whatever you decide, make sure that it’s free, easy to access and, most importantly, make sure the workshop is engaging, interactive, and efficient.
Follow-up. This is the most crucial step in building and sustaining strong relationships. After an individual has experienced an encounter that they deem fun and meaningful, within a week, it is a non-negotiable: you must have had another interaction with them. Be it a short telephone conversation or a text message, you must connect with them. People are busy and as much merriment and meaning that they might have had at a workshop or event, if you don’t follow up in a personal and meaningful way, there is a very good chance that you’re going to lose them.
Distribute Meaningful Materials. After interacting with an individual, the first thing that I send after they’ve gone through a workshop or I met them giving away ice cream is a refrigerator magnet. Each magnet has the names and faces of their legislators and a letter grade, which shows their voting record on school choice. I don’t bombard them with daily emails about school choice. I follow up to make sure that they’ve received the magnet and most express gratitude for the magnet and for following up with them. Subsequently, when I send save the dates or any other material, they are more likely to respond and react in a manner that pushes the movement forward.
Give Marching Orders. After the relationship has been established and you’re able to determine the degree of advocacy each person is best suited to effectively execute, you are now ready for them to act. Some advocates are best positioned to only send personal emails or phone calls on behalf of the issue. Some are prepared to visit legislators at the state’s capitol. A handful will be intimately familiar with the current legislation and are willing to do interviews and become nearly as involved, active, and committed as the person paid to do the work. Regardless of the categories that they might fall into, make sure that your marching orders are clear, concise, and comprehensive.
Organize Contact Information. Most people, justifiably so, are very guarded and private with their information. Therefore, make sure that you are organized and careful when receiving information. Each advocate’s contact information, along with who their representatives are, should be in your database along with notes about each person: where you met them, the type of advocate they are, phone number, mailing address, email address, etc. In addition, this information should also be in your phone. You never want to receive a message or phone call and an advocate’s name doesn’t automatically come up on your phone.
Express Gratitude. Always express gratitude. Send text messages, make phone calls, or send cards on their birthdays. Heck, if you have the budget for it, have celebrations that honor the advocates that are your biggest backers and proponents. It keeps the fire burning because when it comes to effectively sustaining a grassroots movement, the work is a marathon and not a sprint.