Thursday, December 13, 2007

Follow the Dollars

There's a fun new website that just launched today at:

What is it? It's one stop shopping for digging up information on who gets what from the Federal Government. Want to know who the top 100 contractors are? You'll find it here AND how much they were awarded (Boeing, incidentally is number one). It's broken down by state and Congressional district as well, so you can get a sense of which areas of the country are enjoying their fair share (or more) of federal funds.

Check it out -

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Silly Season for Congress

With the writer's strike in Hollywood, you're probably starved for good drama and comedy. Well have no fear! All you have to do is tune in to C-SPAN, the network that covers Congress. The Congress and the White House are mad at each other. The Republicans and the Democrats are mad at each other. The House and the Senate are mad at each other.

The potential result? Another government shut down if Congress can't reach an agreement on spending for 2008.

In the latest episode (i.e., as of this evening), it appears that a spending agreement has been reached, although nothing has been passed yet. As is usual, neither side is overjoyed. The House Democrats have to give in to spending on the war in Iraq, while the Republicans have to agree to a higher level of overall spending. A continuing resolution (designed to keep the government functioning) has been passed which means a shut down isn't imminent.

If you're looking for more information on what's happening, check out the following resources:

Washington Post Article on the latest agreement
Library of Congress chart on appropriations bills

Monday, November 19, 2007

Boy, Did November Get Away from Me!

Over two weeks and I haven't posted? What is up with that? Well, between a very large lobby day and several out of town presentations, I have been running around like a chicken with my head cut off (or would that be turkey?)

At any rate, I wanted to share a few items that have come out in recent weeks that might be of interest:

Article from ASAE's GR Newsletter on Social Networks (written by yours truly)

"Why the Legislative Process is Like Thanksgiving Dinner" (the November tipsheet, a perennial favorite)

New resources from the Advocacy Guru's Advocacy Roundtable program:
More soon! Happy TDay!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How to "Trick" Your Legislators into Giving You What You Want

Seven-year-olds can teach us a great deal about extracting resources from those in authority. Through today's podcast, learn their secrets for successful trick or treating — and apply them to your advocacy efforts!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Upcoming Webinar!

Be sure to register for our upcoming webinar on "Creating Your Own Advocacy Training Program"

Looking for ways to keep your advocates informed, motivated and inspired, without breaking the bank? In this session we'll look at at a variety of free online tools you can use to set up your own advocacy training program for your association They include tools for online training, setting up a social network, file sharing, setting up campaigns and action alerts, and recording podcasts and training sessions. Oh, and did I mention they're free?

I hope to "see" you online!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Grassroots and Elections / Advocacy Training Programs and More!

Want to get your grassroots geared up for the election? Learn about how to set up your own Advocacy Training program? Gear up for the New Year (yes, it is time to think about that). Well, then, check out our upcoming webinars (the link takes you to our social network site where you will find the schedule. Here's information on the next couple:

Grassroots and the Elections
October 24, 2007
Sure, 2007 is an "off-off" year, with no Presidential or U.S. Congressional races on the ballot. But plenty of state and localities will be holding elections on Nov. 6, 2007. And, believe it or not, 2008 is just around the corner! Join this webinar to gain some ideas on utilizing the grassroots in elections -- whether "off-off", "off" or "on".Click here to register

Creating Your Own Advocacy Training Program -- Using FREE Online Tools
October 30, 2007
Looking for ways to keep your advocates informed, motivated and inspired, without breaking the bank? In this session we'll look at at a variety of free online tools you can use to set up your own advocacy training program for your association They include tools for online training, setting up a social network, file sharing, setting up campaigns and action alerts, and recording podcasts and training sessions. Oh, and did I mention they're free?Click here to register

Friday, October 19, 2007

Getting Paid for Waiting: A Time Honored DC Tradition

When I first came to Washington, DC, I took a job as a receptionist / secretary / legislative assistant at a lobbying law firm. On several occassions, I was assigned the task of waiting in line to get a seat at a hearing for one of the firm's lawyers.

I recognize that doesn't sound very glamorous and, believe me, it will seem even less so when I tell you that I often had to arrive around 4:00 or 5:00am to stand outside in the freezing cold or sweltering heat (DC has two temperatures) before being let in around 6:30 or 7:00am. That's why I was thrilled when enterprising entrepreneurs created new line waiting services. Yippee! No getting up at 3:00am any more!

Alas, a recent Washington Post article notes that Senator Claire McCaskill is seeking to end this practice. She expressed outrage that well-heeled lobbyists are able to pay people to undertake the arduous task of standing in line, hence taking up seats that the "average citizen" might want to have. Her argument is that it is, after all, "the people's house."

While it doesn't impact me directly anymore (it would take a lot more than a legislative assistant salary to get me up at 3:00am), I have to say that I don't buy Senator McCaskill's argument. Frankly, I can't think of many "average citizens" that want to physically sit in on a hearing. The lines for seats come not from a competition between lobbyists and "the average joe," but rather from competition between lobbyist A and lobbyist B. I say, go ahead and let them duke it out for seats -- just so long as I don't have to wait in line for them.

In fact, in time this problem may resolve on its own. Given that most popular hearings are available through C-Span or other online venues, fewer and fewer lobbyists, much less average citizens, are actually going up to the hill for these events.

Ironically, it seems that the only "average citizens" who would be impacted by McCaskill's proposals to eliminate the practice are the line waiters themselves -- and the impact would be wholly negative. Eliminating jobs seems like something a representative of "the people's house" wouldn't really want to do.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Money / Grassroots Debate

At a recent session someone asked me if they should focus their advocacy efforts on getting political donors in to see elected officials. In other words, rather than asking "plain old constituents" to see their members of Congress, the question went, wouldn't it be better to get political donors in to visit.

On the face of it, it seems like the answer would be a resounding yes, right? Universal perception suggest that people who contribute to an elected official's campaign have more "access" to a Congressional office.

But the thing is, that's not really true. The very first filter that any elected official considers any request through (whether it's to have a meeting, cosponsor a bill or attend an event) is "how does this impact my district?" So if people want to get in to see their elected official (or, likely, a staff person), their strongest avenue of influence is their position as a constituent. If you pass the constituent test, you will be able to get in to visit with someone in the office.

How do I know? We've scheduled literally hundreds of meetings for groups coming in to Washington, DC for the annual lobby day meetings. As long as we are able to demonstrate a constituency connection, we are never turned down for a meeting.

"Yeah sure," you're thinking "but what if you want to see the Member -- you have to be a donor then, right?" Well, first of all, why would you want to meet only with the Member? The staff people handle much of the day-to-day work. If you want to get anything done it's essential to have a good relationship with them.

But even if you don't buy that, I can tell you that decisions about who the Member meets with are based on a huge range of factors, including whether the person making the request is a friend, whether there are any good "photo ops" associated with the request and, of course, the Member's schedule. I've never worked in or even been in an office where a list of donors is matched up with the meeting requests -- in fact, in most cases the staff have no idea who has contributed to the campaign.

Now, don't get me wrong. Donors are important and are a valuable component of any grassroots effort. But in my opinion, their value lies in the fact that they have demonstrated themselves to be active and involved on two important levels: they have contributed both their time AND their money to the cause. Their willingness to be active on those two fronts suggests that they might be willing (and able) to undertake the arduous process of building a relationship with the office over time -- a relationship that will get them in to see the Member or staff whenever and wherever they want.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Truth Hurts

The Washington Post recently ran an article on how people perceive and remember so-called "Myth versus fact" arguments. In the public affairs arena, we're used to creating "Myth / Reality" or "True / False" one-pagers, where we counter the "myths" argued by the other side (those scoundrels) with our own carefully developed and cultivated facts.

Turns out, however, that in talking about the myths in contrast to the "truth", we're actually perpetuating the myths! How do we know that? Well, a recent study at the University of Michigan asked participants to review a "Myth/Fact" one-pager put out by the CDC. The materials mentioned myths like "only older people need a flu vaccine" or, "the side effects from the vaccine are worse than the flu."

However, thirty minutes after reviewing the materials, people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual. So now, there's a bunch of people out there saying that they heard the CDC say that only older people need a flu vaccine when, in fact, that's the exact opposite of what the CDC was trying to say.

This study has profound implications for how folks in the public policy arena put together their materials. Perhaps its time to toss out those "Myth and Fact" one-pagers -- and just tell the truth as YOU know it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Do the Millenials Just "Not Care?"

Thomas Friedman recently presented a very thought-provoking piece in the New York Times, expressing his concern about the lack of outrage he sees with America's youth. The piece, titled "Generation Q" (for Quiet) suggests that college kids these days have a lot to be angry about -- and should be showing it more.

Friedman comments that between massive deficits, the demise of Social Security, the trashing of the environment and other mishaps of the "greediest generation" (that's us, by the way), Generation Y should be out there getting arrested, participating in protests and generally rabble-rousing to gain attention and foment change.

But, see, I'm not so sure they aren't out there burning their bras -- they're just doing it in a different way. Boomers like Friedman (and, to some extent, me, although I'm in that gray Boomer / Gen X area) don't really understand the power of social networking techniques to create change. Generation Y is showing us new ways to be effective advocates, through a combination of online and offline approaches. We see their influence in the Save Darfur efforts, in the work being done on the environment and in how presidential candidates are running their campaigns.

Just because they aren't out there looting and pillaging doesn't mean they don't care. In fact, we have a lot to learn from how Generation "Q" speaks up!

Anyway, I've written a letter to the editor on this -- if it's printed, I'll let you know!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who's Changing the World?

Politics Online has released its list of the Top 10 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics. I wish we were on it, but alas, no. That said, there are some pretty cool organizations doing some pretty cool things, like:

Get Up Australia! Through this site, normal, everyday Australians (Australites?) can advocate on issues they care about. People can get involved in campaigns from whether the Australian Federal Government should spend money on advertising to Climate Change. The interface is very easy to use and it's a pretty compelling approach.

National Democratic Institute and text-messaging: From the site "the National Democratic Institute is a pioneer in applying SMS-messaging to citizens' efforts to safeguards their elections. With NDI assistance, civic groups across three continents have utilized cell phones to quickly capture information on turnout, polling and results. " Hmm, seems that texting isn't just for the kids any more (LOL)

Gov2U: The Greeks are doing again with this whole "participatory democracy" idea. The inventors of democracy are taking it to a whole new level with e-democracy approaches that seeks to connect citizens with their government in a whole new way.

What's most interesting to me is that of the 10 listed, only two are from the United States and those both were campaigns (Ron Paul and John Edwards). Why aren't more advocacy groups and legislators changing the world?

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Job Description for Congress

In my latest advocacy tipsheet I talk about the idea of having a job description for Congress. Here' s my initial take on it -- what's yours?

  • Wanted. Genial, ethical, trustworthy, highly intelligent, photogenic worker who plays well with others. Must be willing to fight tooth and nail for the interests of his or her region while also maintaining a national perspective. Will be responsible for approximately 750,000 to several million customers, depending on the region. Must be able to work independently, but not TOO independently.

    Duties include responding to several thousand to several million communications per month, meeting with customers as requested, introducing and pursuing policy initiatives and attending meetings as called at random by institution leadership. Must be willing to work 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Will need to raise own funds to maintain position (on own time).

    Benefits include salary that must be used to maintain two households, full health coverage and pension, the occasional under $25 lunch and the thrill of being called “The Honorable.” Workers will also be treated with deference by many (and with derision by many more). In addition, effective workers will have the ability to make a difference for people in their communities.

OK, maybe not the most descriptive, but pretty accurate, I think.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Finding a Lawyer

I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but every once in a while someone thinks I belong to that profession. I think it's because of the whole Advocacy / DC thing I've got going on (many people think I'm a lobbyist as well, which is, well, wrong). At any rate, because I get this question often I thought I'd pass along a great resource for finding lawyers, specifically,

For the uninitiated, this site offers links to lawyers all around the country in various areas of law, including bankruptcy, business, corporate and personal injury. All you have to do is enter your location and the type of lawyer you're looking for (or, if you're not sure, you can look under all genres.) More listing are being added every day. In addition, the site has headlines of what's going on in the lawerly world (did you know there's a lawyer's strike in Pakistan?)

One of my favorite parts of the site is the online forum, which you can find by clicking here. In fact, many simple questions of law are addressed here -- you may be able to find the information you need without hiring a lawyer at all!

This is a great site for anyone needing to track down legal assistance -- and remember, don't ask me! I never went to law school (although some of my best friends are lawyers).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Freedom of Text?

Last week, Verizon prohibited NARAL, a pro-choice group, from sending text messages to its customers. Even though customers had signed up for the texts, Verizon refused to send them saying that they were too controversial.

However, news reports today are showing that Verizon has changed its tune. According to a New York Times article, Verizon spokesperson Jeffery Nelson said the decision to prevent the texts was “... an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy.” He also stated that he understands texting is an important part of our political process and has “great respect for this free flow of ideas."

In a press release, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said "Let's hope Verizon has learned a lesson today: citizen participation in democracy is neither 'unsavory' nor 'controversial. '" According to the NARAL website, more than 20,000 messages were generated to Verizon in response to their initial decision to ban the texts.

As our communications stray more and more from the typical phone calls and flyers, it's important groups can stay in touch with the people who request that information. I think that was a key point: these people had specifically asked for texts from NARAL. It wasn't a spam situation.

Meanwhile, the question is: do phone companies have the right to censor messages?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Gen Y, Coming to an Advocacy Arena Near You

MTV has launched its ThinkMTV social networking site, oriented around GEneration Y's desire to make a difference in the world. The site allows users to bring attention to social issues and causes they care about. In addition, a number of tools are provided to engage other network members in advocating for their cause.

Although I don't necessarily agree 100% with some of the tools (sign a petition? please), I do think there's something here in terms of how this generation will seek to impact public policy. Advocacy organizations around the country would do well to ensure that their issues are part of the discussion.

In the future, I'd love to see MTV or other activism oriented networks, adopt some of the techniques that were discussed at a recent Internet Advocacy Roundtable discussion I attended. In an exchange between leaders in the online activism community and hill staffers, a number of really interesting ideas came to the forefront. One is a new technique of posting questions for elected officials and having other constituents vote on which questions they are most interested in having answered (a la Digg). It serves as an online petition of sorts, but ensures that the most interesting (or at least the most "voted for" questions rise to the top). Then the elected official responds to the top 3 (or 5 or whatever).

Perhaps if MTV can serve as a link between Gen Y and government -- we'll have to see what happens!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Twitter for Advocacy

OK, imagine a bill your membership cares deeply about is being considered on the floor of your state legislature or the US Congress. Now imagine that you really want to provide up-to-the minute updates on who's talking, what they're saying, what amendments are up, how the vote is going, etc.

Sure, your group could watch C-Span, but it's not always clear what's happening, especially to the lay person. What if I told you there was a quick, easy and free way to post updates as often as you want on your website using the text function on your cell phone?

I've been playing around with a service called "Twitter" on my "other blog" (Plugging In), and although I haven't seen it in use for Advocacy campaigns yet, I can see it's amazing potential. Through the site, you can set up an account and post brief (up to 140 character) messages on "what you're doing right now." OK, so most people use it to post updates on their food consumption and the rockin' band they're listening to.

But imagine using it as a continuously updating feed on your website! You're at the Capitol, your arch enemy is about to make a speech on the floor and you can let your membership know by texting a Twitter message that will post in real time on your website. Really. Pretty cool.

Let's talk about the possibilities, shall we?

Friday, September 14, 2007

What do Staff DO with all That Paper?

At a session I did early this weekfor a group of people heading up to the hill to lobby Congress, someone asked the very clever question "what do the staff people do with all the paper we leave behind?" Good question, right? Who wants to lug around reams of paper if they don't have to?

The GR staff for the group pointed out, very correctly, that Congressional staff are people, too. Some will keep it, some will throw it away, some will keep it for a short period of time then throw it away -- they're all over the map. The point was also made that many staffers these days are all about electronic versions of materials. If you store the materials in electronic version on your website, in many ways you're doing their filing for them! All they have to do is bookmark it (i.e., stick a label on it) and they're done!

My experiences as a former staff person and friend of current staff bears all this out. The more materials you have available on the web, the more your stuff will be read. Likewise, keep in mind that staff have very limited room in their cubicle space. If they can keep anything you give them, it will probably be one page. But there is infinite (or near infinite) storage space on the web -- help them keep track of all the issues by making your site as accessible and friendly as possible.

Another approach staff take? Sometimes they'll hold on to the paper you give them for a couple months -- just to see how serious you are about what you asked for. See, if you don't come back a-callin' (or a-emailin') within a couple months to follow-up on what you asked for, you probably weren't that serious. And that's when your materials are likely to be dumped in the round file.

One last tip: consider providing your very brief, very concise follow-up materials in plain old, unfancy manilla file folders. Then all staff have to do is stick the folder in their filing cabinet. Much easier to hold on to that way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Online Debates and the Over 65 Crowd

According to a recent story in Online Media Daily, surveys show that as the Presidential debate migrates to the Internet, the group most like to tune in to online debates and discussions with candidates is, surprise, surprise, the over 65 crowd.

Really! Believe it or not, older americans are flocking to the Internet as a tool to provide them with the information they need to make decisions on key issues, such as who should be president. Other groups likely to turn to the net? Middle income ($25 to $50K) wage earners, households without children, people in the South and West and minorities. Wow. I don't know about you, but those stats surprise me. I assumed it would be young, upper middle-class people most in major cities.

While traditional media such as newspapers and magazine are still the number one source of information, it's clear that the people accessing this information on the Internet isn't always who we think it is. For any Association Executive or Staffer who has thought "but our members aren't on the web", I'd encourage you to think again!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What to Eat on the Primary Trail

Besides politics, food is my favorite topic of conversation. OK, who am I kidding? I hardly ever talk about politics! You'll often find me at parties chatting about people's eating habits - You ate WHAT for breakfast?! - and sharing recipe ideas or food finds. Rarely will I venture into political territory.

So I was really excited to learn about Trailmix, a blog experiment from Jonathan Martin, who covers the presidential primaries for

"Besides politics, I also happen to really like food. Particularly, I'm fond of local joints that serve whatever the regional delicacy happens to be. So when out on the trail, I like to take advantage of the chance to chow down on, say, corn in Iowa, chowder in New Hampshire and BBQ in South Carolina."

Martin is taking tips from locals about the best places to eat on the primary trail. Yum! Count me in for this political discussion.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

We're Plugged In!

Advocacy Associates is getting plugged in this week. We joined MySpace and posted a video on YouTube.

Visit us at and be our friend!

See Advocacy Guru Stephanie Vance in action.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

They're BACK!

Yes, just when you thought it was safe, Congress has decided to return to Washington, DC and start in again on that legislating thing they like to try to do. September is always, ummm, interesting, because September 30th marks the end of the fiscal year. As such, Congress is supposed to have all the appropriations bills for the start of the FY08 completed.

As of now, they have 0 completed. Yes, that's Zero. Nadda. Nothing. (For the current status of Appropriations bills, check out the Library of Congress' Thomas website.) Everyone fully expects what's known as a continuing resolution will be passed near the deadline date (perhaps one of several). This approach will basically allow the government to function at its current rate of spending until such time as the official appropriations bills are completed.

Now, before you get to ticked off at your legislators, bear in mind that the appropriations process is NEVER EASY. Imagine in your own life having to create a budget for your household with the agreement of 535 of your friends, family and complete strangers from all around the country. The people assigned to your budget from California might, for example, think that spending money on hot tubs is important while those from Texas might want more money to go to household fuel (the oil and gas state? get it?).

Before you could start spending money, you would have to get all these people (or at least 1/2 of them) to agree on priorities. Yes, it's their job and they should be able to get it done. But remember: it's a tough job. So have a little mercy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Blogs Unite

"What would happen if every blog published posts discussing the same issue, on the same day?" - Blog Action Day

Good question! What would happen, I wonder, if everyone online focused their attention to a single issue? Would it force those offline to take action?

We'll find out on October 15th when Blog Action Day encourages all bloggers to talk about one thing: the environment. As of today, there are 3,137 blogs participating, with a combined rss reach of 3,051,176.

Blog Action Day is daring to connect the (often) solo blogging world in a shared intention. It's like an open protest, less concerned about the talking points than it is about the participation. And I think this organized conversation is bound to bring up some interesting perspectives. At least, it will gently force people who otherwise wouldn't write about the environment to give it some thought and some space in their blogs, and people who read those blogs to carry on the thought and maybe the conversation in person.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Opening Up Congress

If you haven't checked out the OpenCongress site lately, you really should. At this site, you can access information about all the thousands of bills that have been introduced in Congress. Unlike the simple search engine at Thomas, however (where you can do the same thing), the Open Congress site mashes up information from blogs, FEC reports and news stories to give you a more complete picture about what's going on.

The front page of the site highlights five things OpenCongress can do for you -- and it's pretty impressive. Well, OK, looking up your representatives maybe isn't so revolutionary. But being able to see what bills are "hot" (impeaching Dick Cheney and Children's Health Insurance are at the top of the list -- go figure) as well as subscribe to an RSS feed on your issue area could be of great value to any advocate seeking to stay on top of Congressional activity.

The site is a little heavy on the "let's keep an eye on those terrible people in Congress" message -- I'm not usually a fan of any approach that assumes many members of Congress are keeping terrible secrets (really, it's just a few :)), but the tools they've pulled together for monitoring not just the happenings in Congress but, more important, what other people think of the happenings in Congress is very valuable.

Go ahead, check it out!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Why do we advocate?

Advocacy this, advocacy that -- sometimes I get caught up in all the details of HOW to be an effective advocate that I forget WHY we do it in the first place!

Fortunately I was reminded of this while in Minnesota this weekend at a family reunion / wedding. There wasn't any particular reason -- no one needed an "advocacy intervention" of any sort. Being around family (even the, umm, somewhat off-balance members of my own family) reminded me of a number of simple yet meaningful reasons why we advocate.

Why Advocate?

We advocate to protect our health, well-being and livelihood
We advocate to help those less fortunate, whether we know them or not
We advocate for the benefit of those who can't speak up for themselves
We advocate on behalf of loved ones both near and far, living and dead
We advocate to make the world a better place, according to our own definition of a "better place"

Hmm, makes advocacy sound not that terrible, right? And it really isn't. Just remember, every time you speak up for yourself, for others, for the environment, for animals, for business -- for whatever is important to you, you are advocating.

Although some in DC have turned advocacy and its sinisted step-sister "lobbying" into a dirty word, you can choose to use your advocacy power for good. So get out there and advocate!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Helping elected officials understand the area they represent

The Illinois Park and Recreation Association has a new, high tech, and better yet, free way of letting people know a little bit more about their park services. Ostensibly designed for the general public, their mapping approach has tremendous application in the advocacy arena. Why? I'm glad you asked. When dealing with elected officials and their staff, nothing is more powerful than actually showing them the facilities / businesses and people in the district that will be impacted by their policies.

The Illinois Park and Recreation Association and its LocateAPark site achieves this goal through a "mash up" of information about their member parks with Google Maps. And the coolest thing about it is that they just used their database information and two free online geocoding and mapping services, Geocoder and GoogleMaps. Sure, it took some time, but the basic tools are available to everyone with a computer and an Internet connection.

Of course, the mapping service is only as good as the data that goes into it -- Google Maps will map whatever address you give it, even if it's wrong. Nevertheless, these tools have tremendous potential for any association or organization that wants to build a geographic representation of their members, products or services.

For more information about this cool site, check out the Associations Now article highlighting the IPRA's work

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Blogging Webinar for Advocacy Roundtable Members

What: Blogging for Advocates

Where: Online

When: August 15th at 4:00pm

Why: Many organizations are beginning to use blogs as a means of attracting, and retaining, advocates. These online web logs serve as important conduits for disseminating information -- as well as for facilitating a conversation. If you're interested in the brave new world of blogging, but not sure how to get started, this is the session for you.

How: Register online

Monday, August 13, 2007

Using the Internet to Attract Voters

The data-based marketing company "Blue Lithium" is releasing a new service today called "Voter Network." The company's basic premise is that the techniques they've used to help businesses track down customers by knowing where their target market lurks on the web will also help political candidates get their message out to those audiences most likely to be won over.

The service will allow political campaigns to run ads on sites that are as narrowly targetted as women ages 18 to 34 with incomes over X amount who live in a certain city who are interested in a particular issue. The issue affiliation is of particularly interest to political campaigns as they seek to position themselves as the candidate with answers to 'fill in you policy issue here."

Campaigns will be able to use the service to get feed back on trial messages through instant survey responses, collect donations through links to donation centers and even get people to the polls through old-fashioned GOTV techniques like -- gasp -- the telephone.

Many are hailing this campaign as the year the Internet truly comes into its own as a legitimate and necessary means for candidates to reach voters. With debates on YouTube, early primaries in MySpace and the world of political blogging exploding, it seems to be well on its way.

To read more about the Blue Lithium service, see the Online Media story

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Webinars, webinars everywhere!

I'm offering up one of my "Advocacy Roundtable" webinars tomorrow, Wednesday August 8th at 4:00pm. The session, "Advocacy 101" will provide an overview of the principles of effective advocacy, from the factors that influence elected officials to the power of constituency. We will look at the four components of message development and delivery as well as the top 10 things that elected officials and staff HATE to hear.

If you'd like to join us, go to and register!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Engaging Advocates (and their cash) at American Cancer Society

Many thanks to my friend Lisa Junker at Associations Now magazine for forwarding me this tid-bit about the American Cancer Society's online Relay for Life campaign. For those who don't know, several years ago ACS started offering a "Virtual Relay for Life" in Second Life as part of its efforts to raise funds for cancer research. The traditional relay for life campaign involves real people together coming together in real communities all across the nation and raises millions of the organization.

The online version is similar -- except that it's pixels coming together on computers across the nation. I first wrote about this in an Association's Now article titled "Breaking the Rules of Engagement." Well, ACS clearly continues to be an inspiring example of how to use the web effectively for fundraising and member involvement -- this recent article notes that during its recent Second Life effort, the organizaton raise $115,000, far exceeding its goal of $75,000.

Can anyone out there use $115,000? I thought so -- maybe something like this will work for you!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wizarding Your Way to Advocacy Success

A certain bespectacled wizard who we all know and love (or are tired of) is one of the best activists in the world! How? Because he applies five important rules for effective advocacy in every encounter with the "Dark Lord" (a.k.a. Congress).

Specificaly, he believes what he's doing is right, he has the right allies, the right tools, he perseveres and, well, he makes his own luck -- and its generally good!

If you're wondering how the seven books of Harry Potter and the seven year cycle of the legislative process connect, check out my latest tipsheet. And while you're there, sign up!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Grass-roots, Grass-tops -- Or Grass-middles?

Somewhere along the way, the idea of "grassroots" (i.e., citizens communicating with elected officials) became synonymous with "mass e-mails." Conversely, "grasstops" became synonymous with personalized communications.

I'm not sure why or how that happened. In my opinion, "grasstops" communicators are those that have some sort of relationship with an elected official or are opinion leaders in the community. "Grassroots" are people who are connected to an elected official's office through constituency and are generally more "rank and file" citizens.

But that doesn't mean that "grassroots" citizens should be consigned exclusively to mass e-mail campaigns -- they can develop personalized, thoughtful messages as well as anyone else. In fact, they SHOULD develop personal messages because, well, they work!

Check out this interesting article from on grassroots / grasstops (grass middles?) techniques.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Breaking the Rules of Engagement

As a special reward (or perhaps punishment) for reading this blog, you now have access to an upcoming article from Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru. Entitled "Breaking the Rules of Engagement," this piece looks at how Associations must reframe their view of how members expect to interact with their organization.

The article outlines four rules for quality engagement, which are:

Cultivate the Powerful 1%: In other words, stop tyring to actively engage all members in every project. Find the few that really care and cultivate their interest. Let them join you in finding new recruits.

Stop Using Carrier Pigeons to Reach a Tech Savvy Audience: Some organizations are still deciding whether to deliver their newsletter electronically. "Nuff said.

Get Members Talking: The new generation of advocates expects to have a conversation with the organizations of which they are members. It's not enough to push information out. You must pull them in through an open and respectful forum.

Give Up Control: Without a doubt, the most difficult, but the most important rule for Associations to follow. To truly engage your members you must release your stranglehold over the conversation -- only then will the ideas (both good and bad) begin to flow.

Click here to access the article

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Politics Imitate TV

Anyone watch the "Sopranos" finale? Hillary Clinton is betting on it! Her new campaign ad spoofs the "Sopranos" ending to introduce her campaign theme song. Who knew campaigns even had theme songs? I sure didn't! (Hint: It's by Celine Dion.)

Friday, June 01, 2007

American Library Association and Second Life

Our clients are so cool! Check out this recent article about the American Library Association and its adventures in Second Life, the online virtual world.

According to the article "ALA will have one half of ALA/Arts Island, which will be utilized as a new method for disseminating ALA news and information. It will also be used for reaching out to new audiences, holding events, interacting with members and the public, and exploring the future of library services."

How cool is that? I know many of us think of our local library as a dusty old place with a bunch of books -- ALA's adventures in Second Life prove that the library is moving to a whole new level (or world!). If your local librarian can have an avatar in SecondLife, don't you feel a little behind the times if you don't?

I'm just hoping that libraries will be inspired to start charging virtual late fees as well :)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Advocacy Circle Webinar

Advocacy Circle members are invited to join us online on June 5th at 4:00pm to discuss basic principles of effective advocacy. The session will provide an overview of the factors that influence elected officials as well as the unbeatable power of constituency. We will look at the four components of message development and delivery as well as the top 10 things that elected officials and staff HATE to hear.

For more information about the circle, go to

For more information about the June 5th webinar, go to

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Want to Know Your Neighbors Politics?

Maybe not... But if you and your neighbor are on Facebook, you (or they) could choose to use a couple new tools from the Washington Post and Slate that allow you to share a little bit more about your politics on your page.

The "Compass" tool from the Post identifies (through a short Q&A) where you fall on the political spectrum. That information is then shared with your network. The Slates "Political Futures" application allows the user to place a virtual bet (using virtual money) on the 2008 horse race -- uh, Presidential race. Then it shows how others on the network placed their bets.

As Caroline Little, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive's CEO put it "It's a new way to share political news we're known for with such an active audience."

Or it may be a new way to engage in virtual fisticuffs online.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Is the Internet the Talk Radio of the 2008 Election Season?

As laid out in the Washington Post's recent interesting article "Online, GOP Is Playing Catch-Up," the differences between how the D's and R's are approaching and utilizing the Internet are striking. Dems are out-raising, out-podcasting, out-youtubing and out-friending Republicans by significant margins. By almost every measure, Democrats are utilizing the web more creatively and more productively than the Republicans.

Nope, that's not partisan politics speaking -- Michael Turk, who was in charge of Internet strategy for President Bush's 2004 campaign says "We're losing the web right now." Some point to the Republican party's traditional focus of "staying on message" as the culprit -- the web is clearly more suited to the chaotic, many voices, "I don't belong to an organized party, I'd a Democrat" approach that has long characterized the Democratic party.

As Peter Leyden of the New Politics Institute puts it, "All this talking and discussing and fighting energizes everyone, involves everyone, and gets people totally into it." That's one of the benefits of the web and a clear advantage for Democrats.

In the midst of all this hoopla, though, the larger lessons of the application of the Internet in politics remain murky. What this campaign has the potential to show us is whether all the online rabble-rousing really will make a difference -- or whether the more traditional approaches will still serve to sway the hearts and minds of voters.

Probably a little of each.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Politics and Web 2.0

In just another demonstration of the connection between politics and engagism on the web, Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave the keynote address at the 2007 Personal Democracy Forum. He commented extensively on how the Internet is (spoiler alert) changing the face of American politics (shocking, I know).

A key component of the discussion was whether the "connected world" is always a good thing, with Thomas Friedman, who joined the conversation with Schmidt, noting that when the MySpace generation starts getting involved in politics, there will be much more information (and pictures) available on them -- not all of it flattering. As Friedman put it "George Bush never could've been elected president if he'd been at Yale now and there'd been cell phone cameras around."

Schmidt suggested that tomorrow's leaders will likely be more careful in their activities today, knowing that cameras and media attention abound. However to me the more interesting question there is whether the "engagist" generation will have a more forgiving perspective on the exploits of political leaders. As more and more people experience the consequences of less-that stellar online decisions, will they be more forgiving of others that have those same experiences?

It's certainly possible. In fact, perhaps the surfeit of negative information on candidates might lead to an end of negative campaigning. We can only hope.

More information on the keynote address here.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Advocacy Lessons From Jazz Fest

My latest tipsheet "Advocacy Lessons From Jazz Fest" is available online. In it, I outline five key advocacy techniques that apply equally to getting through a policy campaign or a music festival. They include developing a strategy, developing a theme and, of course, improvising (hey, it's JAZZ Fest). To learn how fried foods and "things with cheese" relate to advocacy, be sure to read the article!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Are you a member of the Advocacy Circle?

Yes, grasshopper, you too can take the long journey to becoming an Advocacy Guru. And it starts with a single step. Check out our new Advocacy Circle where you can become a member at one of three different levels: Seeker; Disciple and Mastermind. Circle members have access to a set number of webinars, free articles and resources, and our Advocacy Circle social network site, which features additional resources found NO WHERE ELSE ON THE PLANET.

Check it out and let us know what you think!

Monday, May 07, 2007

One Stop Political Online Shop

Extra, extra, read all about it: The Washington Post has updated its Politics page. Now you can not only read about your presidential candidates, you can also track them moving across the country in real time. Wondering where Joe Biden is on May 7th? According to the tracker, you'll find him at a BBQ dinner in Davenport, IA. Yum!

On the page, you'll also see links to the latest articles, blogs, columns, photos, videos, and podcasts. There are surveys and also highlights of the best of the political web outside of the Washington Post. There are special reports and live chats. Basically, it's everything you've ever wanted to know about politics but were too lazy to Google. Find it all, here, at the Washington Post online.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

One Key to Effective Advocacy: Figuring Out What You Want

If you've ever been to one of my sessions, you know I invariably talk about the importance of knowing what you want from your elected officials and asking for something specific. A few state governments are about to make this a whole lot easier.

Reuter's reports that Arizona, California, Utah and Virgina are partnering with Google to improve their search mechanisms in an effort to make it easier for citizens to search to hard-to-find public information on state sites. Believe it or not, many governments have TONS of information available on their websites. However, many "open disclosure" advocates argue that since the information is nearly impossible to find, it might as well not even be there.

The interesting thing about this approach is its alturistic nature -- Google isn't charging the states anything for the use of their tools. In addition, the states aren't having to pay to change their infrastructure at all.

Of course, it's not all about better service to the public. This partnership offers great advertising opportunities for Google while at the same time ensuring that the state governments are at least making the appearance of being more responsive to the needs of citizens. It seems like a "win-win" for everyone -- except those "other" search engines...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Playing "Gotcha" with Campaign Contributions

OK, so maybe I'm being a bit of an apologist for the campaign fundraising process, but I have to say that I'm a little irritated by the story in Wired magazine about how recent web mashups are turning citizens into Washington's newest watchdogs.

Before you ask, a "mash up" is an application that allows the user to take information from a variety of disparate data sources and, well, mash them together. In the case of political / money mashups, the purveyors are pulling information on financing and information on votes -- and drawing their own conclusions.

The article starts with the story of MapLight, which put together an interesting report showing that in a debate on legislaton to ban clear-cutting, the environmental community gave less in contributions to elected officials than those opposed to the legislation (a wide range of chambers of commerce, timber interests and the like). The bill was defeated.

Gotcha! The conclusion immediately drawn is that the money was what influenced the vote. And yet, to my knowledge, the report didn't review other factors that might have had some influence -- like who lives in which Assembly district, how many coalition members stood on each side of the issue, what the messages were or whether the group that won the vote engaged in other activity, such as estensive grassroots and grasstops lobbying.

See, anyone doing basic credible analysis should know that the existence of a "correlation" between two things does not automatically mean there is a cause and effect relationship. Consider the argument that the disciples of the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" make in noting that global warming and hurricanes have increased while the number of pirates in the world has decreased: the cause and effect here is clear -- pirates have kept natural disasters at bay.

Plus, one thing that people seem to be glossing over in this particular case (the California vote, not the pirates) is the fact that the opponents actually contributed MORE to those legislators who voted "yes" than the other side! Clearly their money wasn't very influential in that case. Or perhaps those were just the incorruptible members.

Believe me, I'm not a fan of our campaign financing process. I'm not a fundraiser nor would I ever want to be one. I did, however, work for several different members of Congress and I can tell you that the votes of members of Congress are influenced by a thousand different things, from what the Congressman's friends say to how other members of the party are voting to whether the Congressman had lunch that day.

The one common denominator though -- the thing they ask for before every single vote -- is "what are my consituents back home saying?" The power of constituency is a power everyone has. Unfortunately, that's the power some people aren't willing to use because they don't realize just how influential they can be, without a check in hand.

Bringing Advocacy to the Table

I’ve been told not to discuss politics at the dinner table. But what happens when the political discussion is about my dinner table, or at least what’s on it?

The Farm Bill, which is up for review this year, will bring the issue of what our country eats and how that food is grown to the Hill. Congress has started hearings this week, and it’s expected that the big decisions will be made in May and June.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, writes in the New York Times that in the past, the Farm Bill hasn’t garnered much attention outside of the farm states. But he thinks this year is different; “The public-health community has come to recognize it can’t hope to address obesity and diabetes without addressing the farm bill. The environmental community recognizes that as long as we have a farm bill that promotes chemical and feedlot agriculture, clean water will remain a pipe dream. The development community has woken up to the fact that global poverty can’t be fought without confronting the ways the farm bill depresses world crop prices.”

And even more than that, Americans in general are starting to get fed up with how we’re being fed. I bet I’m not the only one who’s tired of paying more for an apple than I would pay for a candy bar; who’s concerned about the chemicals in her salad and who’s appalled by the food she sees served to our children at school.

That rule about politics at the dinner table? Old news. Americans are ready to be invovled in the process that determines what they eat, and I’m guessing that this year, the Farm Bill will be big news for our country with big changes for our bellies.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The "Idol-ization" of American Politics

I've always thought that American Idol would be a good model for our presidential election process. Really. In the last several seasons, there are have been more votes cast for American Idol contestants than are normally seen in a non-presidential year election. OK, so some of those are multiple votes from the same people. In fact, I confess to having voted at least 50 times for Bo Bice in the great Bo / Carrie showdown of 2004 -- I'm still not sure what it feels like to vote for a winner on Idol.

Well, the good news is that MySpace and Mark Burnett (known by some as the "father" of reality television), are teaming up to present a program on MySpace/YouTube called "Independent." The guist is that contestants will submit audition videos on YouTube outlining why that should be president. My Space users and TV viewers will choose from among those candidates and each week, viewers will vote on new missions that players much accomplish related to issues raised by the MySpace community.

The winner will earn $1 million to spend on launching a new political party, donating to a political cause or entering the US presidential race -- which should last them 1/2 week :). To date, it's the most pop-culture application of "people-powered politics" I've seen. For another approach, check out the website U4prez

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The One Place Politicians Aren't Seeking Cash

During campaign season, the one thing we always expect of our politicians is that they will ask for, beg for and/or plead for money. This doesn't make them bad people -- it's a necessity of our rather expensive system of campaigning. Those who succeeed in raising funds in creative (but, of course, LEGAL) ways usually succeed in winning the election.

Why, then, aren't candidates and parties doing more to raise funds online? I don't mean the traditional sort of "online contribution" module anyone worth their seat has on their websites. Rather, I'm talking about some of the online advertising and co-branding approaches that might serve to bring cash into campaign coffers.

Take the example of the recently announced online presidential debates being cohosted by Yahoo, the Huffington Post and Slate. The debate being touted as an opportunity to engage the new generation of younger voters who spend so much of their time online. Nothing wrong with that at all -- it's a noble goal.

That said, someone's going to make some money off of the advertising of this debate. One of the likely candidates is Google through the AdWords program. Others will gain thousands of dollars worth of brand recognition and good will. Should some of those financial gains go to the candidates who are actually making this online event possible? Just a thought...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Surprise! Politicians Like to Talk AT You, Not WITH You

Reuters has an interesting article on Presidential candidates and their use of Web 2.0 techniques ("Politicians Falls Behind in Online Race.") In it, they make a couple interesting points about how politicians are using the Internet.

First of all, while some campaigns are using Facebook, MySpace and other social networking tools to get their messages out, they aren't using these tools to engage in a meaningful dialogue. In some cases, it seems as though they see this as just another form of mass communication. As the article notes ". . . there is a sense it is mostly one-way traffice -- from "them" to "us" and analysts say politicians need to expand their online ambitions towards interactivity and user-generated content."

Along these lines, it seems that once the campaign is over, all efforts at interactivity and creativity go out the window once the candidate becomes an actual elected official. Blogs, video-sharing, networks and other conversation starters online simply aren't used by many electeds. When they are, as is the case with Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has posted a "petition gathering" tool on his site, it is seen as inelegant pandering to a powerful portion of the electorate.

The good news is that some people still see hope -- especially for those politicians who understand that these tools should be used to engage citizens rather than merely talk at them. Citizens expect to be able to interact, and if government doesn't provide that opportunity, someone else will.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Air Congress (or hot air congress?)

If you just can't get enough of the eloquent words of our politicians, check out Air Congress, which highlights speeches, podcast and other oral ruminations of members of Congress. There's also an overview of the various blogs that cover Washington, DC as well as a couple notes about upcoming events.

If you're curious which members of Congress are actually doing podcasts, the site includes a great list. Some of them may surprise you -- it's not just the new "young turks." I was surprised and pleased to see that Chairman Dingell, the longest serving member of the House is posting a weekly podcast. How cool is that?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Burst Media Report on Web in 2008 Election

Burst Media recently surveyed 2100 Internet users identified as "likely to vote" regarding how they intend to use the Internet to make decisions in the 2008 election. One fourth cited the internet as the best place to research positions and general election issues -- more than TV, newspapers, radios, magazines or direct mail.

Perhaps most interesting, those age groups that are traditionally seen as not "internet-friendly" were generally just as likely to get their information from an online source as from a newspaper. There were only a few tenths of a percent difference between the internet and newspapers as the prefered source for the 45-54 agre group and the 55+ age group.

In addition, over 50% indicated that they would watch a video clip on a candidate's website regarding his or her position on the issues. 25% of voters (mostly the younger crowd) would also be willing to download a podcast. And for you Association-types out there, know that about 30-percent of those surveyed have visited issue advocacy sites!

Check Burst Media's site for more information on the report.

Friday, April 06, 2007

DIY Political Ads

The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) trend has finally come to political ads.

Take Phil de Vellis. He created the “Vote Different Ad,” which has been more aptly labeled “Hillary 1984” and has received more than 1 million hits on YouTube.

The ad uses a clip from Hillary Clinton’s announcement video on top of the Apple Ad from the 1984 Superbowl. And it ends with the Apple logo transformed into an O; O for Obama.

Powerful. Creative. Completely citizen driven. And driving the campaign directors crazy.

Simon Rosenberg, president of the Washington-based New Democrat Network, says, “The ad is proof that ‘anybody can do powerful emotional ads ... and the campaigns are no longer in control.’"

Never before has there been such an affordable and easy way for people to express themselves. The Internet has created a forum where money isn't the deciding factor. Now, the major limitations are creativity, time and a desire to have your voice heard. And I bet there are plenty of people out there who can, and now will, summon up the necessary ingredients to make political ads.

Does anyone else think this is going to be a very interesting campaign season?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Forget New Hampshire or Iowa...

...Presidential candidates should be spending their next several months in MySpace, where an online presidential primary vote will be held January 1st and 2nd. Sure, you won't get any votes for the electoral college, but the winner will get a whole lot of bragging rights.

And why not? If MySpace were a country, based on population it would be the 11th largest in the world. That's a pretty influential group of people. Now, some are arguing that the MySpace vote could be easily manipulated: people could vote multiple times or people to young to vote "offline" might actually participate.

Nevertheless, I think campaigns should take this seriously, but not because the MySpace vote will tell them much about the sentiments of the population at large. They should think of it as a giant focus group for campaigns on their position with the social networking crowd, arguably one of the most influential blocs of voters.

Sure, it can be gamed in a varity of ways, and, again, no one should imagine that the outcome will accurately reflect all of America. But it might somewhat accuratelly reflect who understands Web 2.0, and that's a pretty important criteria for the Presidency, in my opinion.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Online Art (and Power) of the Political Protest

Today's Washington Post ran a great article highlighting the new world of the politicial protest. The piece, "French Politics in 3D on Fantasy Website" told the story of a "slash and burn" protest at the headquarters of the extremist French presidential candidate, Jean Marie Le Pen. The slashing and burning, though, all took place in Second Life, the online virtual world where people from around the world live out their idealized lives.

For the uninitiated, Second Life has become increasingly like our plain, old regular life. Many "real world" major corporations have offices in this online environment -- and if you're a candidate for office? You can forget having any success if you don't have a Second Life avatar.

In the French political protest, the really angry fake people opposed to Le Pen took on Le Pen's really angry fake supporters using pig grenades -- yes, that's right, fake exploding pigs. Just wait until the fake Second Life ASPCA gets ahold of that one (seriously, why couldn't it be exploding baguettes?). The supporters fired back with with push guns and avatars where flying everywhere. In the end, though, the pig pushers won and Le Pen's headquarters were decimated.

Thousands of pixels died in this unprecedented attack.

Although this is an extreme example, the exploding pigs do make a point. A new front has opened in political campaigns, and candidates will ignore these virtual realities at their peril. I'm just waiting for the day when an Avatar-American in elected president.

The Power of Grassroots & Socnets!

The Washington Post ran a piece last week on how politicians are starting to change their tactics to engage with voters. The focus of the article is the Edwards presidential campaign where staffers have realized the importance of engaging with voters through social networking sites (socnets). Edwards is not the only contender for the White House that is using the internet as part of their grassroots strategy but it seems that his campaign really understands the importance of building a strong grassroots network. After this first fundraising deadline it appears that Edwards approach is working. Though he came in third in terms of overall dollars raised on the democratic side, he still managed to raise $14 million dollars in the first quarter. What is most impressive though is the fact that he had a total of 40,000 contributers and 80 percent of all contributions were $100 or less. His online community alone raised $3.3 million dollars! The Edwards campaign is proving the power of grassroots! Check out Edwards campaign site to see what they are doing to engage with voters!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Should Citizens Draft Legislation?

Proponents of "Direct Democracy" are of the opinion that, given the right tools, citizens can and should be much more active in drafting the laws that govern their lives. The Sunlight Foundation has launched an online experiment aimed at engaging citizens in the process of researching and crafting legislation, in this case around the policy ideas in which Sunlight is particularly interested, such as Lobbying Reporting and Personal Financial Disclosures for members.

First of all, kudos to Sunlight for walking the walk and talking the talk on their issues. They want transperancy and they're willing to open up their process to anyone with the passion and enthusiasm to undertake a lot of work.

But to me, that's where the rub comes in. Now, you'd think as the "Advocacy Guru," I'd be all about the citizen participation. The truth is, while I have no objections whatsoever to citizens developing and, heck, even voting on and passing legislation, I'm not sure how this process will work. Frankly, I think most people would get very bored very quickly with the mind-numbing intricacies of crafting a bill. Maybe that's just me -- I got bored with it after several years of working on Capitol Hill.

To me, it sounds a little like an initiative process that has gone awry. Anyone from California that has gone through the huge list of citizen initiatives on voting day might understand that one of the basic premises behind representational democracy is the idea that citizens shouldn't have to deal with all this crap. I mean really, who wants to vote on boundary adjustments and Post Office namings?

That said, please go to the site and check it out. It really does offer a great opportunity for average citizens to get a glimpse into the process. Maybe a glimpse is all you'll need!

Activism Gone Too Far

Earlier this week there was a disturbing example of activism gone way too far. In an effort to get the attention of government officials the owner of a daycare center in Manila held 32 students hostage yesterday on a bus outside of city hall. He said that he was trying to advocate for a better education system for his students. He claims that he just wants to make sure that the kids he took hostage have an opportunity to go to school.
He is well known in Manila as almost a folkloric type character taking on social issues and actively working to solve other people’s problems but this latest activism has gone way too far. No matter how passionate you are about an issue, this type of extreme activism does not help move your agenda forward. People will remember this story not for the issues that he was trying to raise but rather for the sense of terror they felt watching him threaten the lives of 32 students.
Though this is an extreme case it provides a good reminder to advocates. It's important to be passionate about your issues but the best way to move your agenda forward is to raise awareness in such a way that it starts a dialogue about possible solutions to the problem.

See the New York Times Story

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Hon. Blogger

Candidates with blogs? So 2004. Legislators with blogs? Very au courant. Elected officials are increasingly turning to blogs not only during elections but also in office. A small but growing group are using blogs to engage constituents, discuss issues, and promote their agenda. Interestingly, the legislator-blogger is more likely to be found in statehouses rather than Congress. A quick glance at the National Conference of State Legislature's excellent blog, The Thicket, shows at least 35 different state legislators with blogs. A number almost certain to grow.

Even more striking is the explosion of blogs dedicated to state-level politics and policies. The NCSL blog lists more than 100. The progressive blog, My DD, keeps a running list of links to liberal bloggers covering individual states or regions. The list totals more than 40. The state and national blogs are also developing a symbiotic relationship with stories, news, diaries, and readers being shared.

A few Members of Congress, including Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), George Miller (D-CA), and John Conyers (D-MI), are regularly contributors on some national blogs. And, certainly, Hill press secretaries understand the value of communicating with bloggers. It is probably only a matter of time before the trend of legislator blogging takes root on the Hill.

The rise of blogs run by elected officials focused on legislating instead of traditional campaigning opens up new opportunities for citizen advocates and grassroots programs. We'll be watching to see what's working. Let us hear your ideas.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Taking it to the Streets

Sunday's WaPo features a fascinating discussion of the influence of social activist Saul Alinsky on presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Alinsky isn't discussed much in mass media circles these days but his influence on today's grassroots organizing and activism. Among Alinsky's key insights was that conflict can be used as a catalyst for creating and mobilizing grassroots advocates. Alinsky was also a deep believer in the power of participatory politics as an agent of policy change. However, Alinsky wasn't just focused on the grand gesture or street theater. He certainly appreciated aggressive, PR-friendly tactics but his grassroots strategy based on coalition building as vital to achieving results.

Those are three pretty good lessons for today's advocates (regardless of your view of Alinsky's socially progressive brand of politics): embrace and harnass conflict as a way to organize advocates; successful grassroots movements should be driven by the vision of advocates; and, coalitions of diverse partners linked by mutual self-interest are powerful.

I haven't peeked at Alinsky's books since graduate school but I think those of us working in grassroots might be well served by picking up a copy of : "Reveille for Radicals" and "Rules for Radicals".

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Presidential Campaign and YouTube

Do you remember last campaign cycle when animated shorts sent by e-mail were all the rage? Jib Jab's "This Land Is Your Land", which was considered cutting edge in 2004, is now listed as a "classic" on their website.

Clearly, the advocacy marketing idea of pulling people into websites, as opposed to pushing communications through e-mail has hit political campaigns. Rather than sending out the latest presidential campaign related video (OK, some say it's an attack ad), the person who created it posted in on YouTube, where it's been viewed almost 2 million times. Yes, I'm talking about the now somewhat infamous "Vote Different" video, a piece suggesting that a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for a big brother-esque, 1984-style society.

Of course, it was posted by someone whose firm is working for the Obama campaign. So maybe they're a little biased.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fixing Congress' E-mail Woes

Jeffrey Birnbaum's "In the Loop" article in today's Post had an interesting note about a new website called The founders' noble goal is to ensure that citizen voices are heard when sending messages to Congress. Seems that Congressional staff are sceptical as to whether form messages are actually from real people. They believe that some associations are sending bogus messages inappropriately in the names of their members. So, this company has developed a system to take all these electronic messages and tabulate them on paper. Paper, they argue, is mightier than e-mail.

You'd think I'd like this, being the advocacy guru and all, but I actually don't. Sites like this perpetuate the myth that e-mail isn't effective. E-mail is fabulous -- what's ineffective is FORM LETTERS. Form communications have been ignored for eons, whether it be petitions, postcards or multiple stone tablets (with the exception of the Ten Commandments). We don't solve the attention deficit problem on Capitol Hill by sending form communication via paper instead of e-mail. We solve the deficit attention problem on Capitol Hill be PERSONALIZING OUR COMMUNICATIONS!!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Cool new Congress Site

If you're looking for information on legislation being introduced, interest group activity on legislation, votes on legislation, what's being said in blogs about legislation or just, you know, everything there is to know in the world about legislation, check out a new site from the Sunlight Foundation and PPF (the Participatory Politics Foundation) called Open Congress. The organization is also asking members of Congress to make their daily schedules available on the site, which should be an eye-opener for those who think that Congress doesn't do anything...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

C-span and video

Policy wonks everywhere should breathe a sigh of relief. C-Span has come to its senses and adopted a liberalized copyright policy for its videos of government in action (or inaction, as the case may be)... You can read the press release here.

Noncommercial entities can now copy, share and post video from C-Span's archives, as well as any future video. This policy is limited to its coverage of Congressional and federal agency actions, such as House and Senate floor action and federal agency talkfests. In addition, C-SPan has announced that it will be expanding its site in order to bring even more boring hearings about government oversight to the general public. Yippee!

The approach being adopted by C-Span has long been championed by entities like Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization which allows creators to mark their products with the type of copyright restrictions they want to apply. So, if you have a video for which you want to reserve some rights, while at the same time allowing other uses, like posting on blogs and YouTube, you can create a customized copyright policy.

No word yet on whether C-span will allow mash-ups of its video materials -- and, really, who wants to see that?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My Barack Obama

Many women would give their eye teeth to utter that phrase, and now they can by going to Obama's campaign was one of the first to start really effectively using the MySpace / Facebook sites for capturing advocates through those networks. Now, they're taking it a step further and building their own.

The good news is that new services are out there for anyone that doesn't want to get locked in to the whole "Myspace" approach (or who thinks that the people on MySpace just might not be the right demographic). For example, at, you can set up your OWN social network designed to cater to the interests of your niche group of people. Just imagine if you were doing an advocacy campaign and wanted to keep your grassroots involved and engaged. For free! These types of services offer a new tool -- so check them out!

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Seven Deadly Sins of Lobby Days

My new tipsheet is up outlining the seven deadly sins of lobby days. They include non-constituency, assumption and inflexibility. Learn how to live a virtuous advocacy life (or how to absolve yourself if you have, in fact, commited these sins.)

Monday, February 19, 2007


If you're thinking that our democracy has become just a bit removed from real life, consider joining the democratic nation of Vorovoro. For $230 a year (think of it as taxes) you can become an official Vorovoran and spend time (the exact amount still being voted on) relaxing in the middle of no where (currently without any facilities whatsoever). The island, located near Fiji (which is located near Australia, in case you're wondering), is being leased by a Mali tribe to a couple of Brits who are hoping to establish an eco-friendly commune, complete with direct representation and voting rights for every resident. However, unlike what we usually might associate with tribes, their website ( has a blog, wiki, and running chat. Hmmm. Doesn't sound like any tribe I've ever heard of.

This experiment is, of course, fascination on many levels. On the democracy front, it will be interesting to see how quickly to Vorovorans become tired of having to vote on every little thing (shall we have compost toilets or pit toilets? what thread count shall the linens be in the communal living area?). OK, these may be a little esoteric, but you get the point. It's the reason why the US decided to go with a representational democracy in the first place...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Who New Parks Could Be So Interactive?

Instead of urging people to "go play outside," we might want to start urging people to "stay inside and read the National Recreation and Park Association's blog." They are offering up a real time look at their Legislative Forum (which ends tomorrow) at Really current events like the launch of the new PLAY legislation as well as their keynote addresses and other resources have been posted on the site on a daily basis. This is an exceptionally cool tool that all Associations should at least consider for their own lobby day events! And, the nice thing about this is that you can set up a blog for free at (hey, that's how we set up our blog!)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Politicians are People Too

In an attempt to take a closer (or should I say refreshing look) at the 2008 presidential race that is quickly shaping up, the Washington Post has begun a series where they will be sharing stories of the candidates from people who knew them in earlier points in their lives and careers. They started this past weekend with Senator Barack Obama. Friends from childhood through to the present day shared stories of their memories with Barry Obama. After reading about the beat up car that he cherished and his glory days as a basketball star, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how refreshing this article was. Politicians are constantly on the campaign trail and everything they say and do is perfectly calculated so we often forget that they are regular people too. This series gives us a glimpse into the lives of the politicians but even more importantly it serves as a reminder that politician are people that we can all relate to on some level even if we do not agree with their politics.

MySpace "Stock" Exchange Ticker for Presidential Candidates

Check out the new Techpresident blog, which maintains a daily count of the number of friends presidential candidates can boast on MySpace. Overall, the Democratic candidates have vastly more friends -- maybe they're just friendlier people. Obama leads the pack with 38,462. You can also access campaign sites, candidate blogs and other "techy" stuff related to the elections.

Just when you thought it was safe to get on the internet!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Really Cool Use of YouTube for Advocacy

The Parkinson's Action Network has put out a call to members to post videos expressing their support for passage of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. The alert offered up detailed instrutions for posting videos on You Tube as well as a proposed text to be personalized. Frankly, it's one of the most innovative uses of YouTube for advocacy that I've seen so far! Check it out at:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Protesting from the Safety of Your Couch

Being in Washington, DC (and being somewhat old), I remember the days before the Internet, when people actually physically drove (or flew or walked or biked) themselves down to the Capitol Mall to take part in a protest. Apparently, this is not the case anymore. While it is true that some large-scale events can garner some warm bodies (such as a recent rally on the mall in opposition to the war in Iraq), it turns out that many people prefer to participate in cyber protests.

In a recent Washington Post article (Where Have All the Protests Gone? Online), writer Jennifer Earl discusses this issue, noting that the Internet has become a powerful organizing tool for protests. Not only does it help provide logisitical support for the old fashioned approach (directions, downloading signs, providing travel information, etc.), but it has, perhaps more important, become an important new venue for registering discontent.

Advocacy organizations need to consider these new approaches when figuiring out ways for their members to participate in any type of activism. And we're talking more than just sending e-mails here. The world of online activism is filled with all kinds of social networking activities -- online activities that often lead to offline action.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Happy Budget Day

In an annual rite of February second only to Groundhog Day, today is the day the Administration delivers its multi-tome budget blueprint to Congress. The document does more than suggest spending targets – targets that are routinely ignored by Congress anyway. The budget also outlines the President’s policy goals and agenda since those programmatic assumptions are built into the budget.

Of course, this year is a far different Budget Day than in recent years. Every year I’ve been in Washington some Congressman or other calls the budget proposal “dead on arrival” but certainly with the change in congressional leadership the phrase rings truer than ever.

What’s this mean for advocacy? Plenty.

Most groups fail to keep their supporters informed until a crisis point is reached. Action alerts work best when you’ve laid a careful groundwork with advocates and they understand the issue. Begin that conversation today. Don’t just issue a press release about the budget proposal and the implications for your priorities. Talk to those folks out in the field and let them know what it means.

Next, encourage advocates to begin talking with their congressional representatives about your priorities and any budget-related issues. It’s never too early in a session to begin building that relationship and understanding between advocate and congressional staff. Most legislative battles have two components: authorization and appropriation. Many times the budget targets directly affect all the legislative action that follows. So, don’t wait to engage your grassroots.

Lastly, if you’ve got grasstops with representatives on the Budget Committee, get ‘em fired up and active.

Want to dig into the budget?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Facebook, Obama & the Future of Grassroots

Yesterday a few thousand souls turned out at George Mason University to hear Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) first political rally since announcing the formation of his presidential exploratory committee. Unremarkable you say? Well, what's interesting is that this event wasn't the product of political consultants, campaign operatives, or even the good Senator himself. According to the Washington Post, the event was organized and promoted through two groups of students who support Obama's run for the White House.

Last summer Meredith Segal was a rising junior at Bowdoin College in Maine. Her enthusiasm for Sen. Obama led to a Facebook group, Barack Obama for President (subsequently renamed "Students for Obama"). Yesterday, she took the podium in Fairfax to introduce him. Her group now counts more than 56,000 members. Another Facebook group of young people supporting his candidacy numbers a whopping 200,000. Segal and her compatriots are now working to transition from an online group to a true grassroots network with regional organizing and other networking tools (website, blog, etc.)

Young people have traditionally been considered low turnout voters largely disinterested in politics. In the grassroots world -- particularly for associations and other DC interest groups -- they are usually third class citizens. Afterthoughts. However, the times they are a changin'. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement studies voting patterns among 18 - 24 year olds. Among their findings:

The Pew Charitable Trust found that in certain targeted districts the 2006 youth vote turnout more than doubled from '02 levels. This happened in 36 congressional districts ... more than the current Democratic majority in the House.

Could it be that young people can be mobilized as a significant element of a grassroots network or campaign if we use the right tools? Most grassroots campaigns mostly ignore students and young professionals. That's a mistake. A growing pool of data suggests these may be some of the most passionate advocates ... and they usually have time and energy to be engaged. Trouble is, we can't just throw the same old grassroots tools at them and expect results.

New tools can lead not only to more participation but also the kind of participation that launches a student from a New England campus computer to sharing the stage with a high-profile presidential candidate. What I'm saying is that they don't to just want to passively belong, they want to really engage.

Technology is certainly part of the answer to turning young people into grassroots activists. But, the real trick is the work Meredith Segal is trying to figure out right now: translating online interest into offline action.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Six Tools for Advocate Engagement -- Part 2

As promised, here are the three remaining tools for engaging advocates in grassroots policy efforts.

Tool #4: Web 2.0 and You – as somewhat overused as the term is becoming, the idea of “Web 2.0” has useful applications to the advocacy arena. What is web 2.0? It’s a term of art that describes the evolving ways in which people are using the Internet. At first, the Internet was used for information distribution – if you wanted information on a certain topic you went to the Internet and accessed it. In recent years, however, the Internet has evolved into a tool for users to create and post their own content, from books to music to pictures. Think of sites like Flickr, MySpace and YouTube as the leading edge of the “user generated content” idea. As people become more used to and, in fact, expect to generate content of their own, these tools become more integral to the online experience. Why is this important? Recent studies show that 40% of people in online communities participate more in social activism than before they joined the community. This is a ready made group of people just crying out to be involved in social causes! Associations need to harness the power of Web 2.0 for their own policy-related purposes – and some are already doing so. The American Cancer Society, for example, recently raised $40,000 in a “virtual walkathon” in Second Life. No walking – just sitting at the computer. Likewise, any political candidate worth his or her salt has a MySpace page. From ring tones to online music sharing to wikis, finding ways to allow advocates to create their own content related to your policy issue will become increasing essential to any successful advocacy effort.

Tool #5: Recognition – the policy environment is difficult, and advocates need to know that their efforts are appreciated, especially since the legislative process moves as slowly as molasses (if that fast). Fortunately, there are a number of quick and easy tools to help provide for that recognition. In addition to the traditional tchochkie approach (hats, mugs, etc.), associations should consider posting an advocates hall of fame on their website to honor those members that have gone the extra mile, such as by hosting a site visit or sending a personal letter. In addition, associations should consider making mention of the efforts of their members in their ongoing newsletters and other outreach materials, as well as prominent posts on the blog (you have one right?) thanking members for their efforts.

Tool #6: Fun – Advocacy can be as exciting as a video game. In fact, there’s a legislative fantasy congress online at – it’s like fantasy baseball, but for the U.S. government. If that sounds a little too dorky for you, consider how your association can use existing online environments like Second Life to promote your cause in whole new ways. Likewise look at some of the examples of organizations like PBS ( who has developed a series of online quizzes and games around its programs – many of them are for kids, but some are for adults as well!

There are so many examples to consider – if you’re interested in more ideas, post a comment and we’

Monday, January 29, 2007

Six Tools for Advocate Engagement (Part 1)

In the last blog I outlined three key "myths and realities" of engagism and how it relates to citizen advocacy. I mentioned some tools for implementing engagist ideas in the advocacy arena and, true to my word, today I’m offering three of those tools, with the remaining coming in the next blog entry.

And the winners are...

Tool #1: Market Segmentation: In order to gain access to the powerful 1%, you really have to hit them where they live. And that means tailoring your communications to unique subsections of your advocacy group. So, for example, if your advocacy organization is involved in animal welfare issues, you need to have an understanding of which advocates really love dogs versus which prefer cats (or rabbits or ferrets or whatever). That way, you can target your messages to inspire those that will be most likely to take action on a particular issue based on the aspect of the issue that appeals most to them. The dog people might not be inspired by a "save the bunnies" message -- but the bunny people sure will. This is a variation of the approach / phenomenon that Chris Anderson describes in the "The Long Tail," and it is TREMENDOUSLY applicable to advocacy efforts.

Tool #2: Vary Your Outreach: The average American household now has over 25 electronic devices, most of which can be used to either send or receive messages. In short, people receive information in any one of a dozen different forms – email, phone calls – even the old-fashioned letter! And, perhaps most important, different people pay attention to different sources of input. For example younger people tend to focus on texting and IM. In many cases, sending them an e-mail is like sending a carrier pigeon. Effective advocacy efforts will identify the various ways in which their audience communicates and then utilize all those means to get the message out.

Tool #3: Multi-Way Communications: Just as advocacy leaders need to vary how they reach out to advocates, they also need to consider what tools they have in place to allow advocate to advocate and advocate to leadership communication. Using simple techniques such as online advocacy surveys (see a sample here), wikis and chat rooms, advocate leaders can encourage feedback from their leading edge. And remember, any feedback, even the negative stuff, is useful.

Check back from three more tools (including many great Web 2.0 ideas) in the next blog entry!