Tuesday, April 07, 2015

4 Pet Peeves All Congressional Staffers Share

At a recent Women in Government Relations’ event, current and just-escaped Congressional staffers had a very cathartic experience. They had the opportunity to share with us a few pet peeves. The good news is that there’s nothing earth-shatteringly new here. The bad news is that there’s nothing earth-shatteringly new here. It seems that many of us are making the same mistakes over and over again. I’m doing my civic duty by sharing some of the highlights (or lowlights) of the conversation.

Don’t tell staff you pay their salaries. Whenever someone told me this I would hand them a dime (the per capita amount of my salary for the number of constituents in the district) and say “Great. Now we’re even.” You personally do not pay each staff person’s salary. You pay a portion of their salary. That salary is also paid for by people who believe the exact opposite of what you do. The staff work 50 to 60 (to 80) hours per week trying to reconcile those two viewpoints.  Believe me. You’re getting a lot for your money.

Talk to the right person – and that means the person who handles your issues. If you want to talk about saving balloon animals, don’t bypass the balloon animal LA. Too many people think that talking to the Chief of Staff or Legislative Director is somehow better than talking to the person who actually deals with the issue on a day-to-day basis. This is not true. Don’t do it.

Don’t threaten. Hopefully, it’s obvious that threatening bodily harm is a big no-no on Capitol Hill. Then the Capitol police get involved, and no one wants that. But threatening other kinds of retaliation – I won’t vote for you, I won’t contribute to your campaign, I’ll tell all my friends I hate you – doesn’t work either. Remember that the offices are hearing the exact same thing from people on the other side of the issue. They prefer to work with people who want to find an area of agreement, as opposed to those who say “it’s my way or the highway.”

Know something about who you’re talking to:  You don’t have to be as obsessed as I am about looking up bills they've introduced or reading their websites. But knowing things like what party they’re a member of, where they are on the political spectrum and even whether they’ve already cosponsored the bill you’re begging them to cosponsor will really help move the conversation along.*

There were many, many more pet peeves, but this is good for starters. It basically boils down to ‘put yourself in their shoes.’ When you do that, you’re meetings will be more productive and enjoyable for all.

* And if you’re really interested in that last part, particularly as it relates to sending advocates up to Capitol Hill, you HAVE to check out our AdvocacyDay app. You can also avoid another of their pet peeves, ‘having multiple people ask for the same meeting,’ if you work with us to schedule your event.

- Written by:  Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Breaking Congressional Update: National Pickle Week

For those interested in what’s happening in Congress, I thought you’d be interested in this statement from the Congressional Record of April 1st, 2015 regarding a very important national issue.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to inform the members of this august body that my dear friend, the esteemed gentleman from the Great State of California, whose love of country I admire and respect, is a sanctimonious jerk. The legislation he brings to us today does nothing less than attack the very core of our democracy.

I speak, of course, of his proposal to establish a National Pickle Week. If passed, this bill would allow the purveyors of pickle propaganda to brainwash millions of Americans into embracing a pro-brine lifestyle.

Let me be clear. No one enjoys pickles more than myself. I eat those of the bread and butter variety on hamburgers. I eat sweet relish, replete with onions and mustard, on that great American treat, the hot dog. I even drink the juice, which I understand goes well with whisky.

But I ask you, my dear colleagues, what of the other pickled vegetables? String beans, okra and peppers have done as much, if not more, to preserve the freedom we as citizens of this great nation enjoy. And indeed, where is our effort to honor other garnishes? Capers? Cocktail Onions? Almond-stuffed olives? In singling out pickles for such recognition, we send the message that we will cave in to what I can only describe as the ISIS of the pickled vegetable world.

I would never suggest that my cherished companion, whose integrity I admire, would introduce this legislation at the bidding of the pickle lobby. The fact that he accepted over $100,000 in campaign contributions from the Acme Pickle Corporation has no bearing on this discussion. Nevertheless, we, as the preservers of democracy, must stand up to this powerful special interest. We, and only we, stand between freedom and pickle domination.

Now before you get yourself all in a huff about the stupid goings-on in Congress, remember that today is APRIL FOOLS DAY! The citizens of this great nation are safe from the horrors of National Pickle Week. Now let the “This is too true to be satire” comments begin.

- Written by Advocacy Guru, Stephanie Vance

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Learn How to Effectively Train Your Advocates!

I’ve decided it’s time to share my Guru secrets with others trying to spread the advocacy gospel, and I’m starting with a workshop on April 17th titled How to Deliver an Effective Advocacy Training. It’s designed for anyone responsible for training advocates on everything from general grassroots engagement to having a great meeting on Capitol Hill. You’ll find more information by clicking on the pretty picture below:

You might wonder why I’d teach other people what I do for a living. It’s mainly because people have asked me to. Also I’m getting old and it’s time to pass along some of the Advocacy Guru’s secrets (which is what I understand gurus do).

There’s a whole long list of what we’ll cover on the registration page.  It’s the usual stuff (pre-event webinars, getting advocates ready for the hill, integrating role-playing, what advocates want, etc.). Also, all participants will receive template power points, handouts for advocates and a step-by-step guide on how to use it all.

If you’re interested, here are the details. If you’re not, just stop reading.

When: April 17, 2015 Ι 12:30 pm - 4:00 pm

Where: 1030 15th St NW, Ste 750 West, Washington, DC 20005

Register: Click here to register online. $299 includes access to the half day seminar, all materials and working lunch.

Questions? Call 1-888-265-0600 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

How to Connect with Federal Agencies

If you are for or against certain regulations within pieces of legislation like The Affordable Care Act or the Food and Drug Act and want to advocate on those issues, you may think that you should ask your Members of Congress take steps to change the law. However, unless the legislation you care about is up for reauthorization, you’re not going to get very far by asking your Senators and Representative to change the way the law is enforced.  It’s actually federal agencies (for example, the FDA or the FCC) that are responsible for creating the federal regulations that enforce the laws passed by Congress. So if you want a regulation within a passed law to be changed, that falls within the appropriate federal agency’s jurisdiction.

The problem is that reaching out directly to federal agencies will not be incredibly influential on your part. This is because you’re not the one who puts the FCC commissioners in their jobs, and you’re not the one who helps directly finance the commissioner’s budget—Congress is. Congress sets the appropriations and approves the commissioners, so they’re going to be the ones who have the most influence. Since you, as a constituent, influence your legislators and since legislators influence federal agencies, the best course of action for you to take is to ask your Members of Congress to reach out to federal agencies on your behalf. Ask them to write a letter to the agency in regards to the particular regulation you want changed. If you have a question about a regulation, talk to the Legislative Correspondents in your Member’s office and they will kick that question over to the Congressional Relations Office of the appropriate agency. Follow up every couple of weeks until you get a response. The more you demonstrate that you’re interested in it (and the more polite you are about it), the more likely it is that you’ll get a response. 

-  Written by:  Kaytee Yakacki

Friday, February 27, 2015

Is it White and Gold? Or Black and Blue?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the great “is-the-dress-white-and-gold-or-blue-and-black” controversy. Let me start by saying I have no definitive answer. I, like many of us here in Washington, DC, am not a scientist. What I find most interesting is the public’s response to what we all hopefully can agree is not the most critical question of our time. And what I’ve seen scares me a little. People are becoming intransigent, immovable, -- one might even say irrational -- in their opinions. And yet it’s clear that – hey – two people can see the same thing in different ways.

To paraphrase my colleague Nick Tobenkin (who’s not particularly concerned about the dress’ color), the fact that everyone has become so entrenched in their perspective explains a little about our political process. If we argue so vociferously about a dress, is it any wonder we can’t come to an agreement about the federal budget or immigration or health care? I think we should view this experience as evidence that people really do see the world in fundamentally different ways, both physically and mentally. And perhaps if we recognize that we can come to understand each other a little better.

As for me? When I woke up this morning to the barrage of increasingly angry Facebook posts, I took one look, decided the dress was white and gold and then wondered what all the broo-ha-ha was about. I saw no inkling of black and blue. But later today, after all the controversy and drama, I saw the picture again. It looked black and blue—so much so that I wondered who’d changed it. I’m going to take that as a sign of an open mind, willing to consider compromise. Or it could just be old age. But I’m going to stick with the former.

- Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru at Advocacy Associates

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Social Media: A Cautionary Tale

Raise your hand if you’ve ever posted something stupid online. A joke. A picture. A Facebook status update or comment… Or have you ever had anything you’ve posted be misinterpreted? My hand’s up, and I bet yours is too -- as is the hand of every member of Congress, I’m sure.

We all do it, and we sometimes get called out, whether fairly or not. A friend of mine posted this interesting New York Times piece about a woman whose life turned into a nightmare when she tweeted something she says she thought was satire, but others took seriously.  The person who publicly shamed her later apologized. But it was too late.  She’d already lost her job along with any credibility in her field.

This cautionary tale made me resolve to think more carefully about what I post online, as well as what I’m going to get outraged about. Sure, there are some easy ‘immediate outrage’ situations, especially in the political world. Anthony Weiner comes to mind. And there are plenty of people who repeatedly post hurtful, dreadful, personally degrading things. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t point fingers where finger pointing is necessary and even valuable. And as public figures, politicians should be held to a higher standard.

But in some cases, especially when these tweets happen during heated political debates, people hit send before they think, and they regret it later. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are terrible people (yeah, some are). It means they made a mistake. And sometimes those mistakes aren’t even substantive. Sometimes it’s just something they thought was funny and no one else did.

My first boss in Washington, DC once told me ‘never say anything you wouldn’t want on the front page of the Washington Post.’ This has become even more important, and more difficult, in the social media age. If we want a more civilized political discourse, perhaps we can all give each other a break every once in a while. I promise to do so if you will too.

-Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Congressional Offices DO Pay Attention to What You Post on Social Media!

In October 2014, the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) released some polling information that provides shocking news about social media and its impact on legislative offices. At least I thought it was shocking, but maybe that’s because I’m old.

For the longest time, social media used to be a somewhat challenging way to get a Congressional office’s attention, mainly because it’s not ‘place-based.’ In other words, legislators and their staff have no way of knowing whether the people commenting on their blogs, Facebook pages, or Twitter accounts are constituents.  And since constituents rule when it comes to policy decisions, that meant that social media could go only so far in influencing outcomes.

Well, that’s apparently changing. The study suggests that the inability to separate constituent communications from those outside the district “doesn’t really matter much to lawmakers, who see social media more as a barometer of public opinion” (attributed to Brad Fitch, President and CEO of CMF). As with any advocacy campaign, though, the quality of the communications matter more than the quantity. Staffers can tell the difference between the mass tweets encouraged by an advocacy group and the ‘real deal.’ And when it comes to the real deal, a majority of offices polled said that even a single constituent commenting on their own was considered influential. Even in the social media world, one personalized communication can make a difference.

So find your legislators on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn  -- whatever have you – and start commenting. Politely, please. 

- Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru