Election day is one week away. That is a big deal for my clients.

My clients are non-profits and advocacy groups. They work in a variety of issue areas ranging from criminal justice to energy to foreign policy. And each one of them has something to gain or something to lose in this election.

So, it’s an important time to talk about the issues. You want your audience to understand how their vote affects policy and the work you’re doing.

But if your issue area is boring or complicated, how do you get people to care? Let’s look at four tactics:

  1. Make it personal
  2. Find your niche
  3. Tell a story
  4. Be concrete

And, today, we’ll use tax policy as a case study. Because, if there is one thing I find boring and complicated, it’s taxes.


Make it Personal

If you want me to care about tax policy, you have to make it obviously about me.

Will I have more money at the end of the month? Will the schools I send my kids to have better funding? How does your tax policy affect my everyday life?

Once you figure that out, the key is to make it clear/obvious/easy. If I’m on your site reading about your stance on taxes, immediately I should say, “Hey! You’re talking to me!”

This means you need to be specific.

Does this policy affect certain kinds of people? Veterans, parents, students, bike-riders, whatever. Say that!

How will this help my state, my city, my neighborhood? Be specific. Don’t say, “This will help your city.” Say, “This will help Washington, D.C.”

Here are some ways you could make your policy about me:

  • Create a calculator where I enter where I live and how much I make. Tell me how much money your policy will save me each month.
  • Make an interactive map of my city. As I navigate around, show how your tax policy will improve my neighborhood. Have pop-ups for local schools, police stations, and more.


Find Your Niche

So, maybe you can’t make everything relevant to everyone. Maybe your proposed tax policy doesn’t really affect the lives of everyday people. Maybe it’s super wonky.

As Kirsty Hulse once said, “There are pockets of weirdos interested in everything.”

If you have something to say about an issue, someone else in the universe cares about it.

You know who cares about super wonky tax policy? Accountants. And future accountants.

Facebook ads allow you to target by job title. You can also target by college major.

If you’ve got a great piece of content that explains why your tax policy is best, promote it on Facebook to this niche group of people. Typically, Facebook ads have a low cost per click so you don’t need to invest a lot to see results. And you’ll make sure your message is seen by the right people – people who are likely to care and act.

Speaking of great content…


Tell a Story

When I was at MozCon, Kindra Hall explained how stories change our brain chemistry. When someone starts telling you a story, two things happen:

  1. Cortisol increases in your brain. This chemical improves focus and attention. Once the story starts, you pay better attention to it because you want to know what happens next and how it will end.
  2. Oxytocin increases in your brain. This chemical increases empathy and emotion. You can see some of yourself in the main character of the story. You relate to their experiences. This creates an emotional connection, building a relationship.

This means that a story can make taxes less boring.

Here is an example:

Ashley is a single mom with three, wonderful young kids living outside of D.C. She’s working full time in the city at a nonprofit and is doing the best that she can to support her children. But sometimes her best doesn’t seem to be enough.

Her youngest, Michael, is only three. He is growing so fast! Everyday, Ashley is amazed by something new he does or says. But, living paycheck to paycheck, she just can’t afford to buy him new clothes as often as he needs them. Ashley had to swallow her pride and ask her church for donations to get him through the winter.  

And now she’s worried about paying for child care for him. Luckily, her two oldest children, Sarah and Daniel, are in school. But Michael is too young. If Ashley can’t even pay her full utility bills – can only pay enough to keep the lights on – how is she supposed to pay for child care?

Despite all this, Ashley does what she can to keep things normal for her kids. Ashley will tell you, “I do feel a sense of pride that my kids don’t know the struggles I go through.”

You write the ending. How will you tax plan help Ashley and her children?

Will your plan put more money in her pocket so she can afford to buy Michael a new coat?

Will your plan provide more services so that she doesn’t have to pay for child care for Michael?

Many of my clients will tell me that they don’t have a story to tell. But that’s not true – they just don’t know where to look.

If you need to find a story, the easiest thing to do here is to talk to your base. Maybe they’ve been hurt by policies in the past. Maybe their lives would improve under a new policy. Ask them to share.


Be Concrete

Details make a story successful. Knowing Ashley’s name or Michael’s age makes the story real for your reader. Details allow a person to visualize and see parallels between their own experiences.

But even if you’re not telling a story, concrete details are very important.

For example, you tell me that my taxes are going to go up. If you want me to care, I need to know by how much. $10 a year isn’t really a big deal. But $1,000 will make me sit up and pay attention.

When you use exact numbers, you take something complicated and turn it into something simple. Exact numbers work well in infographics, headlines, and on social media.

Another example: you say your plan will lower taxes for 45 million people living below the poverty line. 45 million is a big number, but I don’t know what it means. I can’t visualize it. Try saying your plan will lower taxes for 45 million people, which is more than the population of California. Now, 45 million people is a tangible number.

A comparison puts your numbers into context. You not only make your numbers easy to understand, you show why your argument is important.


Wrapping it Up

A lot of policy is boring or complicated. But that doesn’t mean people won’t care about it. Use these four tactics to connect with your audience:

  1. Make it personal
    Show people how this policy will affect them.
  2. Find your niche
    Make sure the right people are seeing your content.
  3. Tell a story
    Grab someone’s attention.
  4. Be concrete
    Use numbers to simplify complicated policy.
About the Author
Katie Fulton
Katie Fulton is Director of Account Management and Marketing at Brick Factory. She works with a diverse roster of nonprofits and has extensive experience in content creation, email marketing, and digital advertising. She also won an episode of Jeopardy!