AARP is the largest membership organization in the United States and in 2015 they recognized that they had the power through their membership to impact politics in a way that remained true to their non partisan roots, but captured the passion of their membership to update social security.
EatonRiver Strategies partner with two other firms to provide AARP with a blueprint for how to harness the enormous power of their membership in an advocacy campaign that mimicked a political campaign. The project was piloted in the three early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and laid the groundwork for inserting social security into the Presidential debate. AARP had always implemented grassroots campaigns in election years to drive policy initiatives, but never on such a broad scale.
The campaign, dubbed Take a Stand, hired campaign staff in each state (5 per state) whose goal was to identify AARP members who would talk to other AARP members who were politically engaged to help drive the debate on social security. Armed with this challenge our state field Directors took to creatively devising ways to employ local members as volunteers. The beginnings were slow as expected, but our Iowa team hit on a formula that worked mailing invites to members to attend a local “meet-up” that offered food and a chance to learn about the program.
Soon, Iowa was organizing local chapters around the state that were far exceeding the metrics established as a baseline for the campaign. Essentially we had designed and were now implementing a political campaign structure aimed at influencing the presidential issue landscape.
As the weeks wore on, the offices in South Carolina and New Hampshire also saw an influx of new volunteers and as the presidential campaign activity began to ramp in these states, so too did AARP’s ability to impact how the candidates viewed the issue. Before the end of 2015, all but two candidates had offered plans on how to update social security and AARP volunteers were regularly attending and engaging candidates in a thoughtful dialogue on how to update social security.
The Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire teams managed to cover over 90% of the presidential events in the final two weeks before their respective primaries, made over 60,000 calls into the AARP memberships in these states and more than doubled AARP’s existing volunteer base.
More importantly, though, these efforts forced candidates to address social security in almost all of their final events and by then last weeks of the campaign, they were regularly calling out AARP and addressing the issue before being asked.