What the Government Shutdown Means to Your Advocacy Effort

With the government shutdown now in its second week and officials on both sides saying this may last through mid-October, Americans across the country are beginning to feel the effects of the showdown in Washington. While many have taken to the phones, social media and other traditional methods of advocacy to voice their concerns, the question is, are these messages even getting through? Even better, if the messages are getting through, is anyone there to read them?

Quick Background
Beginning Tuesday October 1st, many legislators, citing the costs of the shutdown, began to disable the traditional methods of inbound constituent communication. While different in the Senate and House, as well as from office to office, a number of members forwarded their phones to voicemail and shut down their web forms and message delivery protocols.

So what does it all mean?
Well, it’s different depending on what office you talk to:

  • On the Senate Side:
    Some legislators have pushed their phones to voicemail, while others have gone a step further and shut down their contact pages and web forms. An example of the latter being Senator Chambliss’ contact page as spotlighted to the right (click for full size).

    More importantly, for those that have kept their message delivery mechanism in place, there may or may not be someone on the other end reading / cataloging those constituent message.

  • On the House Side:
    We’re seeing a far different response on the House side. While staff may not like it, senior staff and others have picked up the slack in answering constituent communications. This means that webforms are, for the most part, still up and still delivering messages to the member and their staff. Phones are still being answered and messaging is still being cataloged.

So what to do about getting your message to Congress?

After speaking with a number of offices in both chambers as well as heads of advocacy efforts, the consensus seems to be that if your message is shutdown related and you’re targeting the House, go ahead and have your stakeholders continue with their traditional advocacy outreach. Phone calls and letters to the House are still being read and marked down. Your advocates may not receive a response as quickly as they would during non-shutdown, but their voice is getting through.

If your messaging isn’t shutdown related, consider delaying communication with the Hill until after the shutdown lifts.

Then hit offices with a coordinated effort across traditional means and social media to get your message across

For those targeting the Senate with shutdown related messaging, you can continue to send your messages, but as I mention above, for some, they may not be delivered, read or cataloged until the shutdown lifts.

Finally, for those with messages relating to other legislative items – bills that may come up in the future, or those that we being discussed right before the shutdown, hold your messaging. It will still be days from when the shutdown lifts before staff in both chambers can return to normal operations. I would look to a highly coordinated effort a week after the shutdown ends to get my message to Congress.

What to do until the shutdown ends?
In the meantime, take the time to review your effort. A few of many positive pieces that could help in the long-run:

  • Review Your Stakeholder Database: Take a look at your stakeholder database. Think about an email campaign / nudge now to get folks to update their records, express interest in what issues they would like to follow once things resume in DC.
  • Educate Your Stakeholders: Now is a great time to reach out to your stakeholder list and explain the shutdown in terms of what it means to your issues. Your advocates are hearing about the shutdown from multiple outlets, think about the trust and thought leadership you could continue to build with them as you help break down the showdown in Washington in terms that they can easily digest.
  • Engage Stakeholders: Now is also a great time to incorporate other engagement methods into your advocacy effort. A great start here would be to ask your advocates to Share Their Story on how the shutdown has affected their lives. Suggest a few themes and let your membership voice their thoughts. You’ll find a few gems from the responses that may lead to better understanding of your stakeholders and advocacy efforts in the future.