How the American Farm Bureau Federation Keeps Advocates Ready
When the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed regulations to require public companies to disclose greenhouse gas emissions, leaders at the American Farm Bureau Federation grew concerned.
The 100-year-old organization, together with its state and county affiliates, represents nearly 6 million farming and ranching families nationwide. Almost all are private family businesses, not public companies regulated by the SEC, but they are part of the supply. The Farm Bureau wanted to ensure members did not get saddled with complicated disclosure requirements.
“Farmers and ranchers really were never an intended target, but they were being caught up in this rule and it was going to have a major impact,” said Cody Lyon, managing director for advocacy and political affairs.
But there was a plan in place. The Farm Bureau practices what might be called “always-on” advocacy, recruiting and training a group of about 400 grassroots leaders who stand ready to get active when issues like this come about. Relying on these leaders, and its massive membership, the organization mobilized farmers and ranchers to send roughly 10,000 email messages to the SEC and relevant members of Congress.
Officials at the SEC took notice and met with the Farm Bureau. As Lyon put it, “it opened up the doors with the SEC. We probably would not have had that without these grassroots messages.” Farm Bureau allies against the rule, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, were also vocal. While the issue may not be over, the agency does appear to be leaning away from regulating farms and ranches in the proposed rule.
At a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee in September, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler told senators, “There’s no goal to touch farmers in any of the states you represent—or ranchers.”
Building Grasstops Leaders
The Farm Bureau is well positioned to cultivate a consistent grassroots presence, with affiliates in all 50 states and in 2,800 counties. These state and local organizations provide leaders who want to be active in national politics and policy, which is exactly the type of people the Farm Bureau hopes to train as advocacy leaders.
“We work very closely with our state farm bureaus, which are able to identify advocates who have a skill set and just need some polish,” Lyon said. “We offer specific training throughout the year for this group, we have a private Facebook page for them, and they interact and share information.”
The training, which takes place several times a year, teaches members how to handle media interviews, pitch stories, use video and how to develop relationships with members of Congress. The two-day seminars are kept relatively small, with 10 to 30 people enrolled, in order to maximize learning. When training is done, the Farm Bureau continues to invest resources in its leaders.
“When they show that aptitude, we want to give them a look inside the red velvet rope,” Lyon said. “We give them certain gifts, we give them access to our staff and briefings and a few other things. We want to keep them engaged and informed. But we also hold them to a higher standard. When we do action alerts, we want them to not just send a message, we want them to personalize it.”
The educate-and-activate approach is used by the Farm Bureau for its larger list as well. “What we try to do first is educate our membership,” Lyon said. “We do that through a variety of different messages, sending information and posting it on our website. Then, when we feel like the time is right and they feel well enough informed that they understand the issue … that’s when we do an engagement.”
While email is ubiquitous in the advocacy world, the farm Bureau is partial to text messaging, which generally performs far better in terms of opens, clicks and conversions among their grassroots members. “We found that a lot of our members like text messaging, because it’s easy for them,” Lyon said. “They’re out on their farm, on a tractor or in a truck. Text messages are the easiest way to get them.”
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