Monday, September 18, 2006

Evidence that the Personal Approach Works

Long time readers of the blog and related tipsheet know that I like to go on and on about how advocates should focus less on facts figures and statistics and more on telling a personal story. Well, an article in the Washington Post offers evidence for this assertion -- and suggests that the power of the compelling anecdote goes both ways.

Studies dating back to the 1930's have demonstrated that emotional appeals are essential to any winning strategy. The aticle notes the ". . . mordern research confirms that unless political ads evoke emotional responses, they don't have much effect. Voters . . need to be emotionally primed in some way before they will pay attention."

I know this will shock you, but elected officials are people too! They respond to the same types of emotional appeals. Consider that the next time you pick up a pen or sit down in front of a keyboard to craft a message.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What Leaders Do

My next edition of the tipsheet is out at and it offers up my 10 Principles for Effective Leadership. I'm including three of them here --

How did I start thinking about this? Well, recently, my husband and I became obsessed with HGTV’s “Design Star,” one of those – you guessed it – reality shows. In this show’s iteration of that time-honored format, the grand prize for the last-standing designer is the opportunity to host their own HGTV design show. Apparently, there aren’t enough design shows in the world right now. At any rate, it’s over and (spoiler alert) David won.

In the midst of the show, however, one of the other designers was asked to lead a project. She had some very, umm, interesting ideas about what leadership means. To her, it meant telling everyone they were a team, writing them a nice note, and then hoping the project would get done. It didn’t. But the episode made me think about what leadership REALLY means. And since leadership is integral to any grassroots advocacy organization, I thought I’d give you my 10 principles for leadership.

Here are the first three -- the remainder are at

1. Leaders Build and Present a Clear Vision: Leaders may not always be 100% sure of where they want to go. However, true leaders recognize that if they don’t have a clear vision, they need to work with others to build one before embarking on a project. True leaders also understand how to present that vision clearly and concisely so that everyone knows where the organization is headed. In applying this to the advocacy world, make sure you are presenting a clear vision of your overall goal, whether it’s passage of a bill, building a much larger and stronger network or world domination.

2. Leaders are Willing to Alter That Vision: If there are material reasons why the ultimate goal as originally outlined simply cannot be achieved, leaders will recognize that a change is needed. They will work with others to identify a new (and better) direction. For advocates, that means (for example) seeking a regulatory approach when a legislative avenue is closed. Or giving up on world domination and settling for peace on earth.

3. Leaders Are Benevolent, not Dictators: Many people believe they are “leading” when they bark out orders based on some plan for success that they (and only they) have in mind. They may say “well, I’m the leader and I know the plan, so people should just do what I say.” This is the “because I said so” approach to leadership. It didn’t work for your parents when you were 12. It probably won’t work for you now (except in a few high-pressure situations usually involving either the military or rent-a-cops). In the advocacy world, this translates into the “you have to do what I say, because I pay your salary” argument that some advocates make. Actually, if you live in a U.S. House district, you pay 1/750,000th of a House member’s salary. That 23 cents isn’t going to get you very far.

Want to hear the rest? Go to

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Voted!

At least, that's what the sticker says that I got from the polling place. Today was Primary day in Washington, DC, and I feel like the long siege is over. For those who don't know DC, a number of factors have come together this year to make it one of the busiest election seasons ever. First of all, DC has a long tradition of voting almost exclusively Democratic (something like 70% of registered voters are democrats). So, whoever wins the Democratic primary will usually win the election. All campaigning is done around the primary. Second, we have an open mayoral seat, an open seat for Council chair, and several open Ward council member seats. This has made it even crazier than usual.

For weeks we've been hiding in our house with the shades drawn to avoid the 4 to 5 people showing up at our door every weekend day to ask for our vote. Yesterday we had 13 phone messages -- all of the taped variety from various campaigns -- all deleted after the first 10 seconds (note to people doing taped calls -- tell us who you're calling on behalf of in the first sentence). Frankly, it was getting a little irritating. That's right, you heard me. The Advocacy Guru was irritated by the electoral process.

But today, as I navigated through the 20 people all huddled around the "no electioneering beyond this point" sign, I realized how lucky we are to live in a society were people care enough to irritate us for weeks on end. Regardless of whether we think their ideas make sense, are right for the community and fit with our values, we are truly fortunate to have so many people who care enough about DC to want to go through the grueling process of a campaign. When you think about it, that's pretty cool.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Congress and the Truth

The Washington Post recently ran an interesting article on research showing that -- prepare to be shocked -- Congressional debates often involve only half-truths and misleading statements. I know. It's hard to believe...

In fact, the research shows that about 75% of "factual" statements made during a debate are inaccurate. It is unclear whether members of Congress know that what they are saying isn't correct -- often they are relying on information provided to them from often biased sources. In addition, there is the issue of half-truths. During debate, members of Congress may tell only half the story, basically picking and choosing the pieces of information that help them make their point.

Many people will be shocked and horrified by this information, but I'm not sure why. The point of any legislative debate is to win, right? Why would our elected officials be any different than any other organization or business trying to get their message across? Does Coca-cola say "oh, by the way, too much caffiene and sugar can be bad for you." They don't want you to make an "informed decision." They want you to buy their product.

We may wish that Congress and other deliberative organizations were different, but the reality is they aren't. And as long as there are human beings involved (and winners and losers) it's going to be pretty much the same. That's why it's critical for citizens and interested organizations to get as much of the correct information out there as they can.

I just hope they didn't try to measure the accuracy of statements like "I have great respect for the gentleman from [insert name of state here]." I think those are probably true even less of the time...

To see the article, go to