Developing an Engagement Strategy
by Lina Khatib, CCVO Policy Analyst
Nonprofits Vote: Albertans go to the Polls in 2019
As noted in a previous post, CCVO is rolling out an election toolkit to provide nonprofits with resources, tools and information to engage in policy advocacy in the upcoming provincial election. The date of the election is not yet released but will need to be called by the end of May 2019. The full toolkit will be published in the new year. Please follow the CCVO blog as we release installments of the toolkit to help you engage in the provincial election.
If your nonprofit has spent time determining a policy agenda, it’s time to develop an action plan. The development and implementation of an engagement strategy is often when the work becomes publicly visible. Choosing to make your policy priorities visible is a significant step for your nonprofit and should be approached in a coordinated and strategic manner. This section will focus on tackling the shorter-term objectives through various tactics, which all work toward achieving longer-term advocacy goals.
Focus on Your Goal(s) and Choose Your Tactics
Figuring out your engagement strategy will require you to review and assess which tactics are available to you and would be most useful in moving your policy agenda forward. These might include face-to-face meetings with political candidates or organized campaigns around an issue – each has its benefits and considerations. The more time you spend setting your policy agenda and goals, the easier it will be to determine which tactics to pursue. See the table below for a snapshot of tactics you may consider using as part of your engagement strategy.
Bring People Along with You
As part of your strategy development, be sure to investigate what other advocacy efforts might be happening in the community. Consider how other efforts might support, hinder, or cause you to adopt a more collaborative approach to your strategy. You might find that your policy agenda intersects with the work of other groups, or that it could be strengthened through a network approach. For instance, if a nonprofit immigrant serving agency was interested in fighting against discriminatory policies or practices in the workplace, they might choose to connect and share resources with an organization that recently published a report on strategies to address discrimination.
You should also consider that another group might have the ability to speak better to certain issues and you could benefit from drawing on their strengths. Formal and informal networks can play out in different ways, from organizing a policy development working group, to carrying out joint projects, such as events or submissions to government. Keep in mind that networks tend to be held together by transparency and commitment to common values, as opposed to rigid adherence to specific group interests and objectives.
Know the Landscape
The provincial budget will likely be released before Alberta’s next provincial general election, to be held before May 31, 2019. It will be important to stay connected to news outlets, political party websites, and community interests to keep tabs on when important information becomes available, and when political candidates plan to engage with the public. Create a timeline and plot out the initiatives that you would like to undertake and the important community discussions you will plug into. Start your planning early and focus on the four weeks leading up to the election.  While it is important to be organized and to have a solid engagement strategy, it is even more important to spend effort monitoring, learning and adjusting your plan as you go along. In the context of an uncertain political environment, such as what Alberta is currently in, policy advocacy planning should be flexible and responsive.
Whatever tactic or combination of tactics you decide to pursue, it will always be important to focus on the content. Is the message you are sharing in your communications inspiring and effective? Here are a few questions to ask and tips to help guide the way as you engage with political candidates and your intended audience (click here to learn more about defining your intended audience):
Is your content objective, fact-based, well-reasoned, and non-partisan?
Tip: Share local data and statistics about your nonprofit, or the sector in general – you may surprise people with your findings.
Have you engaged your audience (communities, candidates, decision-makers, etc..) in different ways?
Tip: A message often needs to be heard multiple times through different avenues before it is remembered.
Have you used visuals and descriptive language in your communications to help create a picture of the solution you’re proposing?
Tip: Research shows that readers understand and are more likely to remember material when it is expressed in language that allows them to form visual images or that connects to the senses.  For example, the simple use of the word “sweet” draws a stronger response than “kind” and the same for “bitter” compared to “mean.” 
Have you used storytelling in your communications?
Tip: People are more likely to remember information told as a story. Be sure to include the elements of a story: characters, a beginning, middle, and end, a plot, conflict, and resolution. 
Are your calls to action clear and specific?
Tip: If your target audience is not clear on how the proposed solution will help solve the problem, and how they can play a role in the solution, the call to action will likely not be effective.  For example, instead of asking people to end climate change, the call to action should be something people know how to do, like reduce gas emissions by carpooling, riding a bike or walking.
Are your recommendations to government or political candidates/parties clear and specific?
Tip: The more specifics you provide, the closer you bring the decision-maker to deciding. For example, instead of asking for a nonprofit strategy, CCVO has specifically suggested the creation of a Premier’s Advisory Council on the Nonprofit Sector that reports directly to the Premier and Executive Council, an approach that will ensure clear lines of accountability.