Always Be Campaigning

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If you’ve ever watched Glengarry Glen Ross, you’ll remember Alec Baldwin’s iconic mantra: “A-B-C. A-always, B-be, C-closing.” Advocacy work is a lot like sales, but in our field we call it a “hard ask”—the art of focusing your conversation towards a specific commitment or action.

Whether we’re talking to government officials or volunteers, we need to remain focused on our campaign goals, provide people with clear steps so they can create meaningful change and secure a commitment to support our work. So, how do we get to “yes” faster?

Practice Makes Perfect 

Every conversation is an opportunity. Practice redirecting a casual conversation with a friend to your campaign work. Write yourself a script—and refer to it. My grandfather always kept notes about community events in his front pocket. He’d often pull them out mid-conversation and physically point out pertinent bits of information like where and when to arrive. That was a different era, but you could show them on your phone and help them to make that connection.

Stijn Nieuwendijk_via Flickr

Photo: Stijn Nieuwendijk via Flickr

Use Plain, Direct Language

Use simple, straight-forward and direct language to ask for what you want. No matter how clever or righteous your cause, you will never get a firm YES unless people know EXACTLY what you’re asking them to do.

Avoid jargon. Provide people with all the information they need to make an informed decision. If you want someone to knock on doors on Maple Street to talk about your issue on Wednesday at 5pm, ask them using those exact words. This seems simple, but beating around the bush won’t help you affect change.

Check out this handy online resource I put together for tips and tricks about simplifying your language.

Brian Abeling via Flickr.jpg

Photo: Brian Abeling via Flickr

You’re Pitching An Opportunity Not A Favour

Never apologize for asking someone to support your cause. You’re providing opportunities—to create positive change; to develop new skills; to join a welcoming team.

  • Enthusiasm is infectious. Eager volunteers are more productive than reluctant ones. Avoid browbeating supporters.
  • Partner organizations and elected officials have important mandates and cannot prioritize personal favours. Focus on shared goals. Many don’t initially recognize the opportunity, so don’t be afraid to highlight how your issue or solution can assist them in their goals.

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Photo: Sherri Lynn Wood via Flickr

Connect The Ask To The Bigger Picture

People want to know their support directly contributes to their desired outcome. Break down big long-term “mountain top” goals into a series of smaller steps. Generate enthusiasm by explaining how each step connects to individual actions. Often the response is: “what can I do?”

FotoBru via Flickr

Photo: FotoBru via Flickr

There Are Three Kinds Of No

Not now. Not that. And not ever. Know your nos. Listen carefully when you present a hard ask for clues about when, how and if someone will support you.

  • Not now means someone wants to get involved, but the specific time you’re proposing doesn’t work for them. Follow up to find what time works better.
  • Not that means they will support you in a different way from what you’re proposing. Would they rather donate than volunteer? Are they an introvert? Is there a transportation issue?
  • Not ever is self-explanatory: don’t bother asking again because no means no.

Look for patterns in the kinds of nos you’re receiving. Instead of saying “not ever”, people often invent excuses. “Not now” or “not that” can be code for “I’m not interested.”

Howard County Library_via Flickr.jpg

Photo: via Flickr

Multiple or Tiered Asks

Have at least three ways for a someone to support your movement. Order these asks by priority—but always respond to nos with alternative options.

Tiered asks should be diverse and include a range of skills. Avoid all of your activities falling on the same day or time of the week. Don’t be shy about responding to an enthusiastic “yes” with a secondary ask.

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Photo:  Heck J G via Flickr

Take The Initiative

Reinforce commitment with a follow up communication. If someone provides a verbal yes, confirm their contact information and send an email or text with written details. Calendar invites prevent volunteers from double booking. Check-in a day or two in advance to make sure people haven’t forgotten about their commitment.

Now get out there and sell!


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