Advancing Advocacy, Public Policy, Government Relations and Social Impact with Online Community

Associations // Online communities are a powerful tool for an association’s advocacy, public policy, and government relations efforts.

Robert Barnes, CAE
Follow Us

Associations play an important role in advocating for their industry’s interests, not just for their individual members. Advocacy, public policy, government relations, and social impact initiatives also help your association attract and retain members, especially incoming generations looking for purpose and meaning in their work.

Traditionally, social impact and advocacy programs have involved physical meetings, phone calls, and direct mail campaigns limited to fee-paying members of the association. In today’s digital age, however, online communities have become an essential tool for associations to engage whole-of-industry approaches to advocacy. Employing online communities as part of your association’s advocacy program can expand your impact, lead to more successful lobbying, and improve your efforts to seek government funding. This is because of three key benefits of using an online community for advocacy programs:

  1. Increased awareness and reach.
  2. Increased engagement and widened input.
  3. Increased reputational impact.

Community Increases Awareness of Advocacy Issues

As you seek to influence industry decision-makers or regulations, having an online community component of your advocacy efforts helps you enable all the stakeholders involved in that advocacy campaign to share research, trends, reports and resources. The community is also an ideal place to collaborate with and educate others.

EXAMPLE: Palliative Care Tasmania built PalliHub as an industry-wide advocacy platform to support engagement from the broader palliative care sector.

EXAMPLE: The American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) uses their online communities to connect members invested in specific topics and facilitate their mission of “advanc[ing] the capacity of pharmaceutical scientists to develop products and therapies that improve global health.”

With a community, you have another channel for communication. Though you’ll likely still rely on email for some outreach, you can also share information in a centralized hub, which members and stakeholders can begin to check-in on a regular basis. Communication also becomes driven not just by your association, but also by your members and community users – they might share news you didn’t see yet or provide perspectives you haven’t thought of. And your community platform, like Higher Logic Thrive, makes all this easier to manage:

  • You can aggregate community updates in digest-style emails to keep community activity top of mind.
  • You can maintain an ongoing resource library of assets, educational content, statements/proposals, form letters, etc. that users can refer to and use to help them take action.
  • In the case of cause-related advocacy, an online community supports people sharing their lived experiences and personal stories, which puts the issues into context for other community members and helps you build the emotional component of your campaign.

By creating a dedicated space for members to discuss advocacy issues, associations can help to create a sense of urgency and encourage action.

Community Increases Engagement with Advocacy Efforts

Increasing engagement of your broader stakeholder segments is critical to the success of your advocacy efforts. We know how powerful online communities are for connecting your members and providing them with a platform to share their ideas, concerns and feedback – communities similarly make your members and industry more invested in your association’s advocacy efforts.

EXAMPLE: SRA International uses Volunteer Manager to attract, onboard and retain volunteers.

The online community provides a place for stakeholders to interact with each other, share resources and experiences, and provide support, regardless of their relationship with the association. Having a safe and secure environment in turn increases the depth and breadth of engagement. And, importantly, those who have been (or who will be) directly impacted by your advocacy efforts are included in the conversation and in your planned actions and solutions.

Your community is also a valuable mechanism for collecting data on your stakeholders’ needs and interests and encouraging feedback on advocacy initiatives. Higher Logic Thrive’s community tools, for example, allow you to:

  • Conduct polls within the community.
  • Track popular topics and conversation threads as a guide point for topics you might want to focus on.
  • Identify active and engaged individuals whose capability and capacity you can leverage to drive advocacy efforts forward.

The information you collect can be really powerful as you shape your campaigns and strategies.

Community Scales Advocacy Impact

With an online community, you have the potential to drive greater impact than traditional advocacy methods. You’re better positioned to foster a collective voice that can be used to advocate for change. Your online community also makes it easier to organize grassroots campaigns and mobilize members to act. In Higher Logic Thrive’s community platform you can:

  • Include high-visibility calls to action at the top of your community when you have a time sensitive or high-priority action item.
  • Maintain an event calendar so community users can keep track of upcoming opportunities to get involved.
  • Create threads requesting comments on, or sharing drafts of, your association statements or proposals

Online communities are often more cost-effective than traditional advocacy methods, which lets you do more with your existing resources. They are relatively inexpensive to set up and maintain and they enable you to reach a broader audience with less expense than physical meetings or direct mail campaigns. Members can access the community from anywhere, at any time – and so can you when you want to share updates. This makes it easier for you to connect with the people supporting your advocacy efforts, share information and collect data around your advocacy program to support any reporting you need to provide to the government

EXAMPLE: The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) created their Member Activation Program community to better leverage the power of their members for credit union advocacy. The community allows the association to share information and highlight ways members can get involved, while also providing a space for members to engage.

Community and Advocacy Go Hand in Hand

Online communities provide a powerful tool for associations to connect with their members and drive advocacy efforts forward. And instead of your resources and past work getting lost to time because they were inconsistently stored or shared completely ad-hoc, you’ll have legacy information and conversations that the association owns and that advocacy leaders can continue benefiting from in the long term.

By fostering engagement, increasing awareness and amplifying impact, online communities are an ideal tool for associations looking to achieve their advocacy, public policy, government relations, and social impact goals more effectively and efficiently.

Robert Barnes, CAE

Country Manager, APAC

Born PNG, raised Darwin (NT), Robert Barnes lives in Sydney, Australia. He’s been known to talk under wet cement with a mouth full of marbles about associations, engagement, community and culture. He volunteers for The Smith Family as a mentor and recently raised $20,000 for them by riding a motorcycle around Australia. Rob’s first association job at 19 years old was with Surf Life Saving Australia and he has been a CEO, COO and General Manager over the last 30 years in Australia, New Zealand and the US. Rob received his CAE credential in 2020 through the American Society of Association Executives. As country manager for Higher Logic, Rob guides a local team of 12 to deliver success for over 170 membership organisations throughout the APAC region.

Follow Us