by Zippy Duvall | April 25, 2017
Most political advocacy organizations hope their members will take action -- sometime, later, maybe in the future. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), of which I am president, used to be that way. At our annual convention, we'd speak about policies and regulations that could shape the future of the farming profession, hoping our members would contact their elected officials once they returned home. Now, we get more than 1,500 people to take political action within five minutes, on the spot. 

Mobile technology has changed how we recruit and mobilize advocates at our annual convention. I'll tell a story about how we transformed the way the AFBF takes action.

The Approach

Let me paint a scene for you: It's the morning of Jan. 8, 2017, and I'm giving the keynote speech at the AFBF's Annual Convention in Phoenix, AZ. More than 5,000 members from all 50 states have gathered to unite our voices and vision for the agricultural community. As a group that provides plentiful, affordable food to Americans and more than 17 million jobs, we have a great story to tell. However, we worry that Washington, behind closed doors, will make decisions that undermine farmers and ranchers. We want more transparency and accountability.

The speech is building momentum, and, as usual, I've gone off script speaking from the heart. I'm talking about our deepest concerns. I call for regulatory reform, which happens to be near the top of our legislative agenda. The House is preparing to vote on a specific piece of legislation, later in the week, that our organization supports.

So, I tell the audience: "Wouldn't it be something if the thousands of agricultural leaders who are here in this room today sent a message for reform in that area?"

Action as a Community

Normally, that's the point in a keynote speech where some action is suggested…and postponed until who knows when. 

But not this time. 

I ask the audience to pull their phones out and take action right then and there. They text message "AFBF" to 52886. Within seconds, they each receive a link, which takes them to a form where they can submit a message to their federal representatives in support of the act. The system instantly matches them with their members of Congress, so they make their voices heard via email, Twitter, or Facebook.

Here's the neatest part: up on a projector screen, we have a digital map of the U.S. Each time someone contacts a representative, a red pin drops on his or her district, and the audience member's name appears on the screen. We can see exactly who is taking action and where. 

I ask the audience, "Can you help us get to 1,000?" Over the next five minutes, the pins drop and the tally rises. The motivation is powerful, the social pressure welcoming but firm. The northwestern states aren't taking action, so I give them a little nudge. Email by email, tweet by tweet, we surpass our goal.

The Report Card

By the time I walked off stage, we'd sent more than 1,500 messages to representatives. Just think about how much noise we made in so little time. Someone had to wonder, "What in the world is going on here?"

Now, I have to credit Phone2Action for providing all the advocacy technology I just described. They made that moment uniquely possible.

All said and done, we brought in 2,231 advocates who we can now reach when we're ready to take action again. In total, 1,681 people sent 1,767 messages, including 72 tweets and 205 Facebook shares. The House passed the act a few days later.

After that convention, lawmakers from all 50 states know where we stand on regulatory reform. For our members, that opening session was electrifying. Few members had done anything like that before. None anticipated that they'd be fighting for farmers' rights in the first session of the convention, right from their seats. It showed our community that we are at the forefront of using innovation to make a difference. Even the world's oldest industries can still learn new tricks. 

Once a year, when more than 5,000 Farm Bureau members gather in one room, it's too good of an opportunity to waste. By focusing on the right issue and using mobile technology like Phone2Action, we made the most of that moment. We united, raised our voices, and won.

Zippy Duvall is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.