It was a wake-up call for Compassion & Choices Arizona. In January 2013, State Senator Linda Lopez introduced strong right-to-know legislation that would require doctors and nurse practitioners to explain end-of-life and palliative care options to their terminally ill patients. Her bill never made it out of committee. But even if it had, according to Denny Flaherty of C&C Arizona, his group couldn’t have mobilized support for it fast enough to make a difference. “It forced us to take a look in the mirror,” he says.
The group needed a statewide rapid-response network. But at the time, there were only a handful of active C&C members in Arizona. So Flaherty designed a network that could be managed and activated singlehandedly. Fortunately, careers of military service and management consulting made Flaherty a mission-driven strategist with a gift for efficiency, and he developed a winning campaign strategy.
Flaherty started by sorting through all the lists of C&C Arizona donors, volunteers and supporters, and found 1,378 people to contact. He and Arizona chapter president Freda Anderson then designed (and tested and revised) an online survey to determine three things: Do you support aid in dying? Are you a registered voter in Arizona? Are you willing to directly contact your elected representatives and ask them to support legislation?
From the 500 or so individuals who got the survey via e-mail, 131 responded. A good return, but that left some 800 potential supporters to reach. Flaherty developed a telephone survey, call lists and a script. Anderson identified a number of intrepid volunteers. Dividing the state into three regions, Prescott area volunteers took the north, Tucson volunteers handled the south, and Flaherty and Anderson covered the Phoenix area – connecting with 110 Arizonans in all! Finally, to be sure they’d reached every potential supporter, they inserted a survey invitation in the semi-annual newsletter asking recipients to take an expanded online survey that also captured e-mail contact info.
Why online? Flaherty says several people expressed willingness to participate in the network by phone or postal mail. “But,” he explains, “there often isn’t time for telephone or mail alerts. Responses need to happen within 24 hours because that may be all the notice you get on a hearing. It has to be e-mail.”
In a matter of months, Flaherty and his team identified 156 Arizona voters they could rely on to form a rapid-response network, with e-activists ready to go in 25 out of 30 legislative districts. Even though Flaherty insists he’s never worked in politics, his plan produced a field team any political campaign would be proud of. When the next bill – pro or con – is introduced, C&C Arizona will be ready to act.