The Habits of Effective State Advocacy Groups

The results of the following research have been featured in many of my advocacy workshops, as well as various national and regional publications.

In our initial research review, we saw that the specific word “grassroots” was the second highest response as one of the habits of an effective advocacy group. However, upon further review of the responses, we noted that there were numerous responses such as: “active membership,” “lots of members”, and “regular people” that refer to grassroots.

Therefore, I am republishing the results. This change affects only the order of the number one and number two responses. The remaining effective habits are the same.

While those of us in the government relations profession often debate about the most powerful interest groups and why they are successful, there is a way to truly find out – simply ask the customer, the legislator. We did just that a few years ago. We asked state legislators across the country, “What are the habits of effective advocacy groups in your state?”

We conducted this project because we believe that there are a plethora of assumptions as to what works and what doesn’t when influencing legislators. When it comes to getting results in the legislative process, it’s lethal to assume something works because of anecdote, the exploits of similar organizations, or ideas gleaned from conference mythology. We must be assiduously accurate about what our audience values in order to make our message “stick.”

We conducted a random sample mail survey of state representatives and state senators across the country. We asked the open ended questions: “Which advocacy groups in your state are the most effective?” and “What are the habits of these effective advocacy groups?” The responses are remarkably similar across the states. The most noticeable difference was in Minnesota where, “reliable research” was cited as the number one habit. It did not make the top four in most other states. The aggregate responses:

  1. Grassroots support
  2. Money
  3. Good lobbyists
  4. Well organized