Dr. Jeffrey Lowenstein

When COVID-19 struck earlier this year, it hit dental practices severely. The ADA knew it had to act for its members, so it used grassroots tools to secure action on Capitol Hill.

Few sectors of the economy have been harder hit by the COVID-19 crisis than America’s dentists. Overnight, an industry that included more than 1 million locations around the country and some 15.6 million employees closed entirely or shifted to emergency services only operations with skeleton crews.

The resulting damage has been profound. Most practices have lost 25 to 50% of their income and have had an increase of another 20 to 40% in overhead costs. Revenue loss could continue at the present rate until the end of 2020 and throughout 2021, with revenue losses of 10 to 15%.

With its 163,000 members facing a crisis, the ADA had to step up for them—fast—or miss an opportunity to galvanize voices in support of its lobbying activity before Congress and the administration. The organization provided its members with needed information, a path to engage, and the right tools to unify disparate groups of advocates around the country into a mobilized force with one voice. What follows is a look at the steps they took, as well as lessons that can help other associations as they advocate during this unique period in history.

A Call to Action

The ADA turned to its grassroots network to communicate its needs to policymakers—and the network responded with a roar.

The association’s initial campaigns targeted addressing needs of members through legislation winding through Congress, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The ADA knew framing the issue in personal terms would really move the dial.

The group asked all dentists to contact their United States Senators and Representatives to share personal stories of how COVID-19 was personally affecting their practices, their dental team members, and their patients. The ADA and other passionate organizations launched over 1,000 advocacy campaigns between March 17 and 24, the week leading up to the CARES Act passage.

The contact paid off, as the CARES Act was filled with provisions that could help small businesses, including dentists. The sustained efforts also helped position dentists and dental team members as advocates who should help craft the government’s solution.

Lessons Learned

There are lessons in the ADA’s approach for organizations that need to protect their own industries. Here’s a look at some of them:

A Grassroots Effort. While the ADA is no stranger in the halls of Congress, the impact of more than 72,000 dentists sending more than 200,000 emails to lawmakers in a 24-hour span was undeniable. The association activated members in nearly every congressional district, and their personal stories resonated.

Pinpoint the Action Alert. The association created its own Action Alert giving both lawmakers and its own members a strategy to rally behind. It allowed advocates to support very specific initiatives and amplify the association’s requests in the voice of constituents.

Data & More Data. The ADA’s Health Policy Institute’s real time analytic investigation of dental practices brought additional information to their campaigns, some of it dramatic. For example, 10% of dental practices said they may not be able to survive, even with the federal assistance in the CARES Act.

Strengthen the Message. Across every channel and communications medium, the ADA amplified its core grassroots message. It promoted the Action Alert on social media, in interviews, and in communications with legislators. A simple and clear message was repeated on every channel so no potential opportunity was missed to engage and mobilize even a small number of dentists.

Be Persistent. The ADA has not stopped its grassroots advocacy efforts, continuing to push for measures that will bring relief to its embattled profession. Its constant presence has put dentistry in the spotlight as one profession that needs government assistance to recover moving forward. The ADA has also grown its database with help of the ADA’s Health Policy Institute. As legislation continues to move, it is tapping these advocates on a regular basis and has adopted a regular cadence of communication.

Jeffrey Lowenstein