Make Your Advocacy Better, Faster, Stronger, and Burnout-Proof

Boise members raised the bar for march signage with their very own Statue of Liberty. Courtesy of the AAUW Boise (ID) Branch.

Boise members raised the bar for march signage with their very own Statue of Liberty. Courtesy of the AAUW Boise (ID) Branch

March 31, 2017


Just over two months ago, thousands of AAUW members joined rallies across the country (some far chillier than others!) to make their voices heard to lawmakers at every level of government. But as springtime nears and “she persisted” T-shirts replace pink hats, our advocacy efforts are far from over. In fact, we’re just getting started.

For many Americans, the women’s marches were their first forays into the world of issue advocacy. (Welcome!) But whether you’re brand-new or a seasoned veteran, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of urgent issues vying for your attention.

How can you stay active on multiple issues while avoiding advocacy fatigue? What can you do to ensure that your message cuts through the noise? AAUW has you covered with these best practices to help better inform your advocacy strategy and make you your most effective and efficient advocate yet.

Get your priorities straight.

Nearly every time I log into Facebook, I see at least three viral posts encouraging me to DROP EVERYTHING and call my members of Congress. But the reality is, I can’t do it all. For passionate advocates, the task of choosing which actions to take can feel overwhelming.

So how do you know which issues are actually time-sensitive? What is the best strategic use of your (limited!) time? AAUW’s Washington Update weekly newsletter and timely Two-Minute Activist email alerts are the absolute best way to stay on top of the most pressing federal policy issues affecting women and girls.

AAUW of Texas President Jeannie Best and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are interviewed after an AAUW event in Austin.

AAUW of Texas President Jeannie Best and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are interviewed after an AAUW event in Austin.

We use these alerts to provide updates on our legislative priorities and to call on advocates to take action when we know constituent input is needed most. The timing and the messaging of these updates is strategic; they include talking points we know to be effective on the issues we know require constituent attention. Think of us as your advocacy content curators saving you from sifting through dozens of calls to action.

Meet your lawmakers.

Successful advocacy comes from successful relationships, and there are few more important than the relationship between constituent and elected official. As constituents — and as voters — it’s your opinions and stories that really do matter to your members of Congress and that can have a real influence on how they vote, what they support or oppose, and what they know. In fact, a 2015 survey by the Congressional Management Foundation found that direct constituent interactions have more influence on lawmakers’ decisions than other advocacy strategies. That’s why we ask you to call or email your own members of Congress and not those in other states. And it’s why our 2017 Capitol Hill Lobby Day will be so effective.

When Calling Works

AAUW members made so many calls during a recent campaign to educate Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on the importance of Title IX that the Department became quite familiar with our organization. A member from New Jersey reported:

“I got through using the 1-800 number, and was put on hold for a short time, much less than 5 minutes. A very nice polite, young-sounding man spoke with me. After I had read the first paragraph of AAUW’s script, he started reciting the next part. I was actually pleased, that meant he had heard from many of us. He took my name and contact info, and promised to pass on my concern.”

Pick up the phone. But email too!

Sending an email to your member of Congress is easy and effective, no doubt. But if you really want to take your advocacy to the next level, consider making a phone call. Most congressional offices tally the number of constituent comments on an issue (again — keep it to your own state!) and those messages can inform the member’s position. While emails are read and tallied, a large volume of calls on an issue could bring an office to a halt, sometimes spurring the legislator to put out a statement on his or her position. Calling is particularly effective when an issue is time-sensitive, like when a vote is scheduled to occur shortly. On the other hand, a constant trickle of emails to congressional offices on an issue can convince legislators to consider points that might not have previously been on their radar — meaning emails are important too!

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Being on the defensive can be exhausting. If you’re feeling burnout, it’s OK to take time off. Step away from your email. Step away from social media! It’s also important to remember that success doesn’t always look like winning; it can come in the form of stopping bad legislation or even amending a bill to be less bad. There can be reason to celebrate even if we didn’t pass a gold-standard bill or see the desired outcome. That is the up (and down) side of our democratic process! Successful advocacy efforts often take time, and you’ll be a better advocate in the long-term if you take time off when you need it.


AAUW Advocacy Priorities

Learn about AAUW’s stances on important equity issues for women and families.

A professor talks in a classroom/

Advocacy How-to Guides

Utilize a collection of AAUW resources to help guide your grassroots efforts.

AAUW Staff in Hallway

State Policy Program

See how AAUW staff can help you make a difference in your state through local advocacy.

By:   |   March 31, 2017