Thursday, December 04, 2008

If you weren't sure whether grassroots matter...

Check out today's Washington Post article "On Health Care, Obama Policymakers Turn to Campaign Tools." It reports on the myriad ways transition team players, like former Senator Tom Daschle, are turning to real live citizens for ideas on how to improve the health care system. On a recent conference call with a thousand upporters, Daschle noted that the new administration is planning listening sessions, town halls and even more online outreach efforts in the next month.

"President-elect Obama believes that change really comes from the ground up, not from Washington," according to Senator Salazar from Colorado, who is helping with health care summits for the new administration.

And people seem to be responding! Several thousand comments have been left on the transition team's website outlining options for improving health services. In fact, a recent interactive online conversation combined video with postings from citizens to try to answer the question "what worries you most about the health-care system for our country?" Visitors were able to score the suggestions with which they agreed the most (or least) through a "Digg" like system.

Perhaps most important, though, is how the transition is using technology to make health care policy issues real for both citizens and politicians. As Daschle pointed out, in response to the recounting of a personal story about small business people struggling to provide health insurance, "[w]hen I was in the Senate, it was stories like that, probably more than all the factual information, that really moved you to want to act."

Clearly, the personal, relevant compelling stories of citizens can make a difference. Maybe it's time to think about how you can be involved in the debate!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Preparing for the 111th Congress

Crossposted on ASAE's Acronym Blog

Welcome to the first in a series of five posts outlining strategies for preparing for the 111th Congress. Believe it or not, the elections are finally over and we’ll have a new Congress and a new Administration in 2009. Regardless of whether your party was wildly successful or not so much, it’s important for advocate leaders to be fully prepared with their grassroots, grasstops and coalition building efforts as early as possible.

Why are the grassroots so important this time around? Well, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that “Joe the Plumber” is in and “special interests” are out in Washington, DC these days. Only those organizations that have effectively incorporated their own “Joes” (i.e., citizen advocates) into their government relations plan will have their message heard and even perhaps acted on in this environment.

That’s why this series of posts is designed to help you hit the grassroots advocacy ground running in January 2009. We’ll look at five different strategies for preparing the network, starting with our first strategy, which is to wrap-up the 110th Congress. Are you ready? Let’s dive in!

Advocate leaders should take some time now to close the books on the 110th Congress. Take a moment to undertake the following three activities:

  • Clean out and update your database list: Review e-mail addresses, advocate address information, affiliation information and grasstops contacts and connections to be sure that you have the right advocates communicating with the right elected officials. Remember that it’s better to have fewer active advocates in your database than thousands of individuals who aren’t interested in policy debates – or worse, aren’t receiving your communications! Now is the perfect time to update and clean out.
  • Update your legislative agenda/advocacy materials online: When was the last time you took a really good look at all the materials available on your site? Even if you update information regularly, much of the older information is often left on the site for search engines to find. For many organizations, the advocacy section of the website is the first impression a potential advocate will see. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
  • Create a list of successes from the 110th: Most organizations will want to put together a legislative summary outlining the work of the previous Congress. Be sure to include in that summary a clear section highlighting successes – and be sure to define success as broadly as possible! While an ultimate success may be passage of a particular piece of legislation, incremental accomplishments such as increasing the numbers of cosponsors for legislation, expanding the reach of the grassroots network or even getting a bill to the hearing stage should be celebrated. Given the length of time it takes to move legislation through the process, it’s important to stress when some progress (even limited progress!) is being made.

Once you’ve finished wrapping up for the 110th, you’ll be able to move on to our next strategy, Preparing Your Team -- stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I was honored to have a piece in Forum Magazine titled "Build an Online Advocacy Network for Advocacy Success." I outlined some options for advocate network leaders to consider when approaching the brave new world of web 2.0. I highlighted some challenges (and opportunities) inherent to this particular environment.

An editorial in yesterday's Washington Post offers more insights. In her piece "Citizenship 2.0, author Danielle Allen outlines two types of policy / political web 2.0 approaches: one focused on a top down hierarchical approach and one focused on a more interactive, community based philosophy. She looks at these two approaches from the perspective of the political parties, noting that in the past, the right has been far more likely to adopt the later approach than the left.

But the times, they are a changing. Recently the left has become far more cognizant of and familiar with the more interactive, less hierarchical approaches as evidenced by, in part, the Obama campaign's desire to build a conversation with the American people through the internet. Whether this will be successful or not remains to be seen, but Allen argues that, if it is, we'll see a richer and more engaging citizenship experience for all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Citizens and Civics: A Shocking Disconnect

Considering the fact that the words "citizen" and "civics" derive from the same root, you'd think there would be more knowledge about our system of government out there in the country. For me, personally, having lived through the Clinton Impeachment debates, the Republican takeover of the House and the Gore / Bush "hanging chad" campaign (decided by the Supreme Court), I was sure that everyone certainly knows what impeachment and the electoral college are, much less the three branches of government! (not Moe, Curly and Larry, FYI)

That's whay I was surprised to read this USA Today article on the, frankly, apalling lack of knowledge about our government. According to the piece, only half of Americans can name all three branches of government and just over half know that it's the Congress that can declare war (not the President).

But then, I took part of the test and was further surprised at my own apalling lack of knowledge :). Some of the questions are hard!: albeit, not the "how many branches of govermment" questions. The Scopes Monkey trial? What's a progressive tax? Huh?

You can take the full test at Be prepared to be humbled.

Why the Legislative Process is Like Thanksgiving Dinner 2008

The legislative process has been compared to the process of making sausage: while some may find the final product palatable, you don't really want to see how it's made. However, I've recently come to a profound and somewhat startling realization. Forget Sausage. Think Thanksgiving Dinner.

Every year we host Thanksgiving dinner for 10 to 15 friends, and every year the menu has been the same. I mean EXACTLY the same. Each guest brings the same dish at the same time to the same house. In fact, in the last couple years our “invitation” has simply been one sentence: “Thanksgiving – you know what to do.”

This year, my husband, in keeping with the enthusiasm for change that is sweeping the nation, desperately wanted something different. While he agreed in theory that (in his words) “the fundamentals of our holiday are strong,” he sent an impassioned plea for new culinary delights -- for “Yes We Candied Yams” or “Swing State Sweet Potato Pie.” In keeping with the theme of change he has even committed to making Cranberry and Pineapple Salsa.

Salsa. On Thanksgiving. Needless to say, everyone is horrified. There’s been talk of a boycott, dismay over the abandoning of traditions -- even accusations of, dare I say it, un-American activity. While some of the guests are willing to sit down with Tim (but only with preconditions) to determine the course of the meal, others are ready to take the maverick course and walk out.

Why all this drama over a simple meal? Each of our guests has a very different and very steadfast idea of what the Thanksgiving feast must include. In past years the Chardonnay faction went head-to-head with the Pinot Noir bloc. The green bean casserole enthusiasts simply could not come to terms with those preferring green bean almondine. And I sincerely thought that the mashed potato and gravy vs. sweet potato casserole controversy would erupt into a fist fight.

Don’t even get me started on Pumpkin versus Pecan Pie. Until you’ve tried to get pumpkin pie out of your carpet (or out of your dog’s mouth) you can’t honestly say that you’ve hosted a Thanksgiving dinner.

So will we select between these conflicting and equally worthy menu items? Will we embrace change? Will we make the "hard choices"? My guess is no. As in year’s past we will have two kinds of potatoes, two kinds of green beans - even two kinds of turkey (regular and "tofurkey" for the vegetarians, including myself). And the varieties of wine available will become too numerous to count.

Incremental change may occur, although probably without much enthusiasm if the great “bacon-wrapped turkey” experiment of 2007 is any guide. We might have a fruity salsa to go with our regular cranberries out of the can. We will probably, as always, forget that we bought dinner rolls until it’s too late. We’re stuck in our ways.

So when you wonder why no big changes ever occur in the legislature, or how Congress comes up with these bills that have 18 million unrelated items, just take a good look at your own holiday traditions. Here are a few tips to (hopefully) help you think of all this in a different way:

  • Understand where the other person is coming from: Is your Aunt Millicent really insisting on her beloved "Brussel Sprout Surprise" because she's a horrible person? Will explaining to her over and over again that no one else likes Brussel Sprouts really convince her to forgo her long-time favorite? Not likely. Remember that members of Congress are representing the same diverse and, umm, interesting perspectives when it comes to policy matters.
  • Fight for your form of potatoes: Speak up! If you just have to have sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving, say so - and do everything you can to make that happen. Don't just sit there at the table all squinchy-faced thinking about how your meal is ruined because it doesn't include what you want. You may not be successful in lobbying for your potatoes, but you'll feel better if you ask. And who knows? You might not get your potatoes this year, but maybe you can have something to say about the style of cranberry sauce (but no salsa, please). Or perhaps a promise (be sure to get it in writing) of your form of potatoes for next year.
  • Develop alliances: My step-sister and I always join forces in lobbying for the sweet potato casserole, and we've developed strong alliances with other factions. As a result, support for our preference has remained rock solid, despite repeated efforts to have it removed from the menu. Think strategically and politically about how you form these alliances. Who has the ear of the "menu-planners" in Congress? How can you join forces with them to get your menu item on the table?
  • And finally, be prepared to give thanks, regardless. Many of us, thankfully, have enough resources (and space for leftovers) to please the majority of our Thanksgiving guests. That's a pretty big thing to be thankful for at a time when millions of people around the world go hungry. In the policy arena, remember that the U.S. Congress is dealing with somewhat more finite resources. Actual choices must be made and sometimes the things we like lose out, especially when new menu items - like an economic crisis -- start filling up most of the plate.

So, take a deep breath, think of the things you are thankful for, raise your glass of Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir, or whatever you want, and vow to continue the fight for your potatoes another day!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Campaign Contributors: NOT Trying to Buy Off Legislators

Conventional wisdom suggests that those who make big campaign contributions expect big things in return. Yet scientific evidence suggests otherwise. A recent article in the Washington Post titled "Big Political Donors Just Looking for Favors? Apparently Not" highlights research done by the Center for Responsive Politics on political contributors.

The organization's report suggests that the "investments" organizations make in campaigns are really quite small considering the potential impact policy proposals might have on their ability to do business. The financial services industry, for example, only invested about $123 million in the campaigns. While that seems like a lot, it's chump change compared to the $700 billion being wielded by the government -- $700 billion that will determine the industry's structure far in to the future.

As the article author points out:

"If you thought campaign contributions bought you goodwill, and you knew that decisions made in the next couple of years might be worth hundreds of billions of dollars in potential profits and losses, wouldn't you be willing to "invest" a lot more in the outcome?"

Sure, some might argue that this simply points out that politicians can be bought for cheap. But I'm not one of those people. Perhaps the more important lesson to take from this is that money simply doesn't play as big a role in legislative decision making as many Americans think it does. In many cases, those seeking to elect certain legislators over others are simply trying to ensure a favorable environment for their issues in the next Congress: they want to elect members of Congress that ALREADY understand and agree with their views, not "buy off" those that don't.

Even more important is the recognition that regardless of how people feel about money in the political process, everyone has an even more powerful tool at their disposal. It's called constituency. Now get out there and use it -- and happy advocating!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Why the Elections Matter (No Matter WHO Wins)

Check out my new white paper on advocacy and the elections., which refutes the conventional wisdom that suggests since all Presidential candidates essentially express the same views, it may not really matter who wins.

Even the politically-charged campaign of 2008 demonstrates this truism, where, on the same day in answer to similar questions, the candidates had this to say about recent economic turmoil on Wall Street:

"We must not bail out the management and speculators who created this mess." (McCain)

And then,

"[We] must not bail out the shareholders or the management of AIG that were making big profits when times were good.” (Obama)

(“McCain, Obama Scramble to Shift Economic Message,” Washington Post, 9/18/08)

Unfortunately, the rhetoric in the political campaigns fuels the fire of apathy in our political system. But elections and, more important, the advocacy efforts we undertake with our policymakers after elections, do matter -- and matter deeply -- to every individual, family and business in America, regardless of who wins the McCain / Obama matchup. To find out why as well as a dozen ways to get involved, check out this new resource!

Monday, October 06, 2008

How Citizens Turned Around the Bailout Vote

Last week's titanic struggles to enact a bail out bill revelaed one starting fact: Citizens have far more power in our democracy than we’ve ever given them credit for. In an environment where campaign donations and bribes are supposed to be the way to a politician’s heart, something has gone seriously awry.

While the "bail out" or "financial rescue" plan (depending on your philosophy) eventually passed, it did so only after, as pointed out in a Washington Post article this weekend, groups like AARP, the US Chamber and the National and Community Banks asked their grassroots to get involved. Only after the frantic calls in to Congressional offices switched to at least 50-50 were lawmakers willing to take the plunge.

Wall Street is in this predicament, in part, because they never cultivated the “power of constituency. They have relied on money and influence in a political environment where the authentic and personalized outrage of everyday citizens holds far more sway. You can’t blame them for trying. Conventional wisdom would dictate that these industries, which have more than doubled the level of giving to political campaigns in the last 10 years, should have been able to get this bill passed with minimal effort

Yet, if the “here’s my money, where’s my vote” approach works so well, why didn't it work earlier in the week? Clearly, there’s a backlash – and a big one: big enough to alter the entire structure of the deal.

The whole bailout debacle demonstrates that organizations with well-developed grassroots advocacy networks can have their voices heard like never before. It’s the reason we have talk of provisions to help individual homeowners, questions about whether the package should deal with credit card and auto loan debt and potential restrictions on executive pay. Where Wall Street dropped the ball, in addition to taking on questionable loans, was in not building a deep and broad network of supporters across the country willing to go to bat for them when those loans hit the fan.

Clearly, the lesson in all this (besides "don't borrow more than you can pay back") is that grassroots advocacy works. It turned around this vote -- maybe it can turn around yours!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Political Prognosticators

I attended a terrific event with political prognosticator extraordinaire Charlie Cook today. First of all, he referred to some great websites we can all use to keep an eye on the latest polling numbers, including the Gallup daily poll, where users can sign up for a daily e-mail update of the latest and greatest in campaign numbers.  Other great sites are and

He had also, of course, had some useful / interesting things to say about the upcoming election, including:
  • Young voters are registering in droves and are likely to actually vote in the general this year.
  • He does not believe that Obama supporters should worry about the "Bradley effect," where voters might indicate that they would support an African American for president in pre-election polls and then change their mind in the voting booth. 
  • White voters over 50 are the toughest group for Obama to attract, and may be the ones that ultimately decide the election.
  • Democrats should expect to gain 6 to 8 seats in the Senate and anywhere from 12 to 20 in the House.
  • Obama's lead, although narrow, has been steady.  Unless something dramatic happens, he's likely to maintain that lead and win the overall election.
It was an entertaining and thought-provoking session.  We'll have to see if it was prescient in about a month!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit: Be an Active, Engaged, Involved Citizen!

Well folks, I bet you didn’t believe you’d make it, but it’s the end of September and the end, for now, of my daily advocacy habit tips. I’m considering extending the program in a more concerted way (I admit it, you all were guinnea pigs), so let me know what you liked (or didn’t) about the daily missives.

I would not blame you at all if recent U.S. and world events overtook your enthusiasm for developing an advocacy habit. That said, I believe in a world of decreasing federal and state budgets combined with increasing distrust of Congress and lobbyists, advocacy, and especially grassroots advocacy, will be more important than ever.

So, your very last advocacy task is to come up with a few things on your own that you know you can commit to on a daily basis to be a better advocate. They might include:

  • Daily review of the webpages of your elected officials to see what they’re up to
  • Connect, at least once per day, with another advocate or an elected official through a social networking site like Facebook or Linked In
  • Check the headlines of the Washington Post and/or the Politics page on the Post website to see the latest that’s going on in Washington, DC (you can do the same for state level publications)
  • Watch the U.S. House and Senate in session every once in a while on

You can start your daily ritual by checking for any statements on the websites of your relevant elected official noting how they voted on the “bailout” or “financial rescue” bill (depending on your perspective. You can find them at or If you think they did the right thing (or the wrong), let them know!

Happy Advocating!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit: Know your Legislators!

Whether you're an individual advocate or leading a campaign, it is always a good idea to know a little about the audience receiving your advocacy messages. Elected officials and their staff will respond far more positively to a message that is framed in terms that make sense to them. This means that the message needs to be:
  • Relevant, in terms of a connection to the legislator's district as well as the policy issues in which the legislator is interested
  • Personalized, with a compelling story about why the issue is important to the person writing
  • Specific, i.e., including a very specific action the legislator can take and, of course
  • Trustworthy. This is not the place to guess about impacts or make us numbers (yes, I know it feels like legislators make up numbers all the time, but you shouldn't)

To help develop these particularly powerful messages, it's useful to know something about the specific legislators to whom you'll be writing. Take 10 minutes today to do a little research on your relevant legislators and fill out our Legislator Profile Form. That way, when you have to contact them in a panic about, oh, I don't know, a financial bailout bill, you'll have all the information you need at your fingertips!

Happy advocating!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit: Spread the News -- Everyone CAN Vote!

I heard a disturbing story on NPR this morning. Apparently, a rumor started circulating on the Internet that people whose homes were foreclosed on would not be able to vote! Election officials and other state staff in Maryland have received enough phone calls about this that they actually feel the need to issue a statement saying "you can still vote, even if you've had your house foreclosed on."
This mortgage crisis is coming to something serious when people think their right to vote is somehow tied up in their property ownership status. That might have been a criteria two hundred years ago, but it's not now. If you're a citizen, you get to vote. Sure, in DC we may not be able to vote for people who are able to vote themselves in Congress, but that's a different story.
To familiarize yourself (and others) with the registration and voting process, have some fun today by checking out It will be far more fun than watching the stock market. Your task for today is to pick one or two activities you'll undertake in the next month to get people out there voting. You might add a "Are you registered to vote?" note on your e-mail signature. Or, you might post the Rock the Vote widget on your website (you can see ours at Either way, you're making the world a better, more democratic place!
Happy advocating!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit: Plan for Persistence

I sometimes hear advocates say "But I've tried EVERYTHING with Congressman, Councilperson, Senator X and I can't get anywhere. They obviously won't listen to me. This advocacy stuff doesn't work very well."

I recognize that it is frustrating to deal with recalcitrant elected officials who don't see the world as you do. But that doesn't mean there isn't hope! When I delve a little deeper into this complaint, I often find that the "everything" that was done was two letters, a phone call and a meeting. That's certainly a great deal, don't get me wrong, but it's nowhere near everything you can or need to do to capture an elected official's interest, especially when he or she might be inclined to disagree with you.

As such, today's habit forming activity is to think NOW about the 10 things you might do to "step up" your advocacy efforts in these situations. Write them down so the next time you feel like you've done everything, you're sure you know what that entails. I'll give you three to get started:

To be as persistent as possible I have:

1. Asked the elected official to submit a statement to the Congressional Record (for the U.S. Congress) or write an article for our newsletter (for Congress and others)
2. Asked the elected official to visit a facility / site / beneficiary of our services in his or her district
3. Learned something about the elected official's own priorities and tried to connect with him or her on those terms (i.e., offered to help with a legislative initiative or asked a friend / supporter of the elected official to reach out).

Come up with seven more and you're done with your habit for today!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit: Factions, Financiers and the Federalist Papers

One of our recent advocacy habit forming activities was to go back and look at the U.S. Constitution. Today, I'd like you to consider looking at some other important founding documents, specifically the Federalist Papers.

If you aren't sure what those are, have no fear! These were articles written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay and were published in New York newspapers in an effort to persuade New Yorkers to ratify the constitution. Think of the Federalist Papers as one of the earliest "public relations" campaign of our nation! I am 100% positive that if all this were happening today, these pieces would have been written as "The Federalist Blog."

Now, I'm not suggesting that the style of these papers should be adopted for modern PR efforts. Frankly, I think the language might be a bit dated for most Americans. That said, there is much that can be learned from these articles, both in terms of the structure of our government, but as well as how to pitch a complicated idea.

Since I promised a "10 minute" activity, I'm going to point you toward one specific paper, Madison's #10. For some reason it speaks to me in these trying times. Something about all the talk of "factions" which Madison describes as:

"a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."

It sounds like a certain group of Wall Street financiers, doesn't it? It's OK, though, because Madison has the solution!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit: Link In to Advocacy

Link In to Advocacy!
The popular networking site Linked In isn't just about making business connections and finding old friends. It's also a powerful tool for advocacy. Next time you need to bend the ear of a particular elected official, search for his or her name on the site. Even if the official hasn't joined, it's likely that you'll find staff, campaign supporters and others.
The "degree of contact" icon on the list that is generated from a search will tell you the number of connections between you and the person in question. So, for example, if someone is marked as a 2nd degree of contact, that means you know someone in your network who knows your target person.
Linked In can also help you determine who in your network might be "grasstops" type individuals. They may not have told you that they have connections in high places, but that information could be found on their Linked In profile.
In essence, the Linked In approach takes the old political truism of "it's not what you know, it's who you know" to a whole new level -- and now you can capture that power for your own advocacy effort. Oh, and while you're on the site, look me up!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit: Tell a Personal Story!

Personal stories capture the attention of elected officials, particularly when they are told by constituents or someone working on behalf of constituents. Take a moment to figure out why you advocate for the causes you care about. Why do they impact you personally? Use the "Story Telling Worksheet" I've developed to help.

If you're working on behalf of a larger organization, encourage members to develop their stories and do what you can to capture that information in a database sorted by legislative district. Feel free to adapt the worksheet I'm providing here if it's helpful.
Armed with this information in your own lobbying efforts, you'll be much better equipped to make a connection with elected officials.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Forming and Advocacy Habit: Get the Scoop

Get it? Scoop?
Today's 10 minute "forming the advocacy habit" activity is to stay up to date on the latest and greatest in advocacy research. Take a moment to review three of the most valuable reports I've seen in recent years, specifically:

Each of these includes valuable information for anyone trying to get their message across to elected officials at all levels. And if you just read the Executive Summaries of each, it should take just ten minutes!

Happy advocating!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit: Leverage the Media!

Leverage can move mountains or, in some cases, even your elected officials! Utilize the leverage of the media to your advantage.
Review this online directory of newspapers as well as this directory of radio stations to find the outlets in your area. Then take a look at the websites of key resources to find the reporters that cover your issue. Build a database and start getting to know these folks by commenting positively on their stories online and showing your expertise. Let them know how what you have to say will benefit their readers.
Media is an important component of any advocacy habit, because it helps get your message across to policy makers in an indirect and often more creditable way ("hey, I read it in the paper so it must be true").
Consider joining my Grassroots and the Media webinar today at 4:00pm Eastern to learn more about how to incorporate the media into any advocacy effort. Anyone on the planet can join one per year for free! After that, you must buy a subscription, which you can learn more about here.
Happy advocating!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit: Do Something about the Economy!

I don't know if you've noticed, but the financial markets are in turmoil. As the stock market plunges, home values decrease and banks fail, many Americans have been watching their net worth decrease dramatically in a matter of days.
Fortunately, we can do more than watch: we can act, and that's what advocacy's all about!
Take some time today to draft a one to two paragraph letter to your elected officials telling them your story of the economy's impact on your family, work and community. Maybe your members are struggling, your nonprofit is seeing reduced revenue from funders or members, or your own financial situation has become difficult.
If you have a preferred solution (increased regulation, deal with the housing foreclosure situation, provide another stimulus check, offer incentives for financial service firms to pick up some of the slack, whatever) share those ideas. Even if you don't have a solution to suggest, isn't it better to DO SOMETHING as opposed to sit back and watch? At a minimum, you'll likely get a response that will illuminate their views on the whole debacle.
You can draft and send the letter online to U.S. House members through Write Your Rep. or to Senators at the Senate website ( look them up by state and click on the webform link).

Monday, September 15, 2008

New Video Resource for Advocacy

Well, I'm mad I didn't think of it myself, but I would be remiss if I didn't share this resource with others. What is it? It's, which houses a series of short videos on how to have an effective meeting with members of Congress. It includes preparation techniques, why advocacy is important and tips from insiders like actual legislative staff and members of Congress. There's also a whole page of useful tips on the site on setting up meetings and preparing to deliver an effective session.

Check it out!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit: Check out the Bill of Rights!

Part of the U.S. Constitution is the Bill of Rights (actually, the Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments). They include stuff we use every day (like freedom of speech) as well as stuff we hope we don't have to use everyday, like a right to a fair trial.

Take a minute to review the Bill of Rights and think about how it applies to your life and work. Would we have advocacy without freedom of speech and freedom to petition the government? How do every day stories in the newspaper relate to fundamental Bill of Rights principles?

Why is this important? Well, sometimes it's good to look at our advocacy efforts from a "back to the basics" perspective. Plus. it's fun to whip out your knowledge of the Bill of Rights at cocktail parties (Number 7? Sure, that's rights in civil cases!) People will be impressed.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit: Check out the Constitution!

Have you really thought about the U.S. Constitution lately? No? That's OK. Once people get past junior high they usually stop. But not us, right?

Take a few minutes to read at least the Preamble (if you're feeling ambitious you can go on to read the whole thing!). Revel in some of the key phrases , like "we the people", "more-perfect union" (they didn't say completely perfect union, did they?) and "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity". Wow, that's pretty powerful stuff, especially when you consider the fact that this document was written by citizen advocates just like you -- lawyers, doctors, bar owners, financiers, writers and, of course, "gentleman farmers." Think of the Constitution as the ultimate advocate's toolkit.

Now get out there and secure some of the blessings of liberty to yourself (however you may define that) -- and happy advocating!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Make a Commitment to Advocacy

Yesterday I introduced the idea of forming an Advocacy Habit. Here's the first step in that program:

Say it loud and say it proud -- I am forming an advocacy habit!

An important part of forming any good habit (or eliminating a bad one) is making a public commitment. Today's task is to find at least two opportunities to tell someone that you are making a habit of advocacy. And, if you want to rephrase it, go ahead (I'm making citizen involvement a habit, etc.) The main point is that you're doing something to become a more active citizen. Here are some options you can consider:
  • Look at yourself in the mirror and say"I am forming an advocacy habit." You'll probably laugh the first couple times, but that's OK. Advocacy is fun!
  • E-mail or call your friends or significant other to let them know of your intention
  • Announce it in your staff meeting (but only if your boss won't think you're crazy)
  • Add a note to your e-mail signature
  • Post a notice on our online social network
  • Update your Facebook page (Stephanie Vance is: forming an advocacy habit!)
  • Send a Twitter message
  • Send a text or IM to someone who knows how to receive those :)
  • Add a comment on your voice mail (I'm away from the office right now because I'm forming an advocacy habit. It's much healthier than stepping outside for a cigarette, right?)
  • Blog on citizen participation and why an advocacy habit is important (or comment on someone else's blog)

Now get out there and advocate at someone!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Forming an Advocacy Habit

I have a confession to make. When I woke up this morning I thought to myself “yeah, I should go vote in the DC Primary today, but I don’t really want to. It’s not an important election and I’m really busy.” In my defense, there are only a few contested races for positions that I, frankly, know little about. It just doesn’t feel like a good use of time. Anyone else feel that way occasionally?

See, even the Advocacy Guru has those days when she’s not all about civic participation and democracy. That said, though, I will go vote, mainly because I like the little “I Voted” stickers. OK, that’s not the only reason. In fact, I do make myself participate in these “they don’t really matter” elections because I think they are essential to forming a positive advocacy habit. What’s an advocacy habit? I’m glad you asked.

If you think about it, many of the things that are good for our health, our family and our community aren’t necessarily things that many of us just love to do everyday. Think exercise. Or flossing. Or putting money into a 401K instead of a new sports car (maybe that’s just me). Yet we do these things because we know they’re beneficial (umm, except maybe the exercising…) -- and the tool we use to get ourselves to do these things is the process of forming habits.

When you form an advocacy habit you don’t have to think about whether you’ll vote or send a letter to an elected official or attend a townhall meeting. You just do it. Over time, the benefits of “just doing it” compound. You may be asked to make a statement at a local hearing. Your state and federal legislators reach out to ask your opinion. You may even be asked to run for office. In short, your decision to “just do some advocacy” today will reap amazing benefits for the future by giving you the power to influence the issues you care most passionately about.

So how do you form an advocacy habit? Just follow these three simple steps:

Step One -- Commitment: Say it loud and say it proud “I will form an advocacy habit.” Really, I mean it. E-mail your spouse, post a blog entry, call your friends or reach out to your local or national association and tell them that are forming an advocacy habit. Add a comment on your Facebook page, drop me an e-mail or post a notice on our social networking site. Studies show that a public commitment is essential to forming any good (or eliminating any bad) habit.

Step Two -- Take Daily Action: Yes, that’s right. I said daily. To successful form a new habit you’ll need to keep it “top of mind” every day for several weeks. But I don’t mean you should contact your elected officials every day or vote more than the appropriate number of times during an election (just once, for anyone doing the math on that). Just find 5, 10 or 15 minutes everyday that you can use to feed that habit.

Step #3 – Persistence: This is the one I have trouble with, especially when it comes to the aforementioned exercising. I am really good at my habit forming efforts for about a week and then, well, I slack off. I’m not the only one with this problem, am I?

So, to help my tipsheet readers with their advocacy habits, I’m offering two FREE options for getting a daily “nudge” about advocacy:

An e-mail autoresponder program. All you need to do is send an e-mail to and I will send you a new advocacy habit forming activity EVERY DAY through the end of September (the first one starts today!).

Or you can follow me on Twitter (User ID: AdvocacyGuru). I’ll be sending out daily “tweets.”

That should give you plenty of time to get on the advocacy bandwagon. Each tip is short (one or two sentences) and designed to be completed in no more than 15 minutes.

Through commitment, daily action and persistence in no time you’ll be an advocacy superstar. In fact, you might get to the point where you’re jonesing for some advocacy whenever you’re away from the democratic process.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Facebook and Advocacy Campaigns: A New Tool?

Facebook, the social networking site extraordinaire, has gotten in to the advertising game. Anyone with a profile on the site can set up an advertising campaign designed to drive traffic to a website, a Facebook profile or anywhere else on the world wide web.

I've been playing around with this tool mainly for business development purposes (i.e., linking people to our business site). It's pretty easy to use. All you need to do is write an ad using the usual "haiku" format (ok, it's not a real haiku, it just feels like one), wait for it to be approved (no capitalization in strange places as I learned) and it starts running.

In keeping with the spirit of Facebook I've linked the ad to free resources on my site as opposed to anything for sale, so it's hard to tell whether there's been a positive impact. I didn't create a special Facebook landing page, which would be the smart thing to do and is next on my list. I have seen a slight uptick in newsletter subscriptions which may be a result of this campaign.

At any rate, the reason I'm mentioning this on my blog is that I believe there may be some advocacy applications for this approach, specifically in using the advertising tool to recruit activists for issue campaigns and as new association members. Political campaigns are already using it (I've seen a fair number of Obama ads pop up) and some issue campaigns like are on board as well. Advocacy organizations might want to take a look at whether this tool can help them access the active and socially connected people that use Facebook every day (and, in some cases, every minute).

Some of the downsides include cost (a minimum of $5 bucks per day AND the click through costs are much higher than Google) as well as the inability to target as specifically as one might like (or, at least, I can't figure out how to get to people just interested in grassroots advocacy and have to settle for people interested in politics in general). That said, it's worth a look for any organization seeking to get the word out to the Facebook audience -- and if you try it out, let me know how it goes!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Grassroots Advocacy in Iceland...

I'm back from my vacation in Iceland where my advocacy work was related mainly to advocating for more time at the fantabulous geothermal hot springs. I'll post some fun photos from the trip soon, but wanted, in the meantime, to hook everyone in to this great blog post on Associations Using Twitter.

If you aren't sure either a) what Twitter is or b) why you should care, you should definitely take a look at this post. Think of Twitter as the texting craze meets blogging. Basically, when you use Twitter you send "Tweets" or very small (up to 140 character) posts about whatever it is you want to alert the world to. Originally used in by the younger crowd for fascinating comments like "Dude, I'm so playing Guitar Hero right now," associations and businesses are starting to see the value of using this technology to connect quickly and easily with a large group of people.

The post includes a number of great examples of Twitter use in the Association world as well as links to posts on how to make your Twitter posts most useful. Frankly, this technology has incredible applications for grassroots advocacy: imagine having all your hardcore advocates able to follow your updates quickly and easily through their cell phones, especially during an active legislative debate or an event like a lobby day!

We're hoping to experiment with these approaches during the busy 2009 Lobby Day season. Let us know if you'd like to be part of the fun!

Oh, and check me out on Twitter! My user ID is AdvocacyGuru

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Grassroots Advocacy Olympics!

If you're like me and have been staying up way past your bedtime to watch the Olympics everynight, you might like my recent newsletter, "The Advocacy Olympics: Or, How to Medal in the Great American Art of Democracy." In it, I make suggestions for how we can all be more successful at essential democratic and advocacy activities, like "Synchronized Legislating", the "Get That Bill Passed Balance Beam" and the "Policy Pentathlon."

If you want to be the Usain Bolt of the grassroots advocacy arena, take a look at this article. It just might help you get up on that medal stand!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why This Week (August 18th) is the MOST IMPORTANT WEEK OF THE YEAR For American Democracy

Today, Monday August 18th marks the start of the most important week in 2008 for American democracy. That's right, this week -- this measly little, mid-August, "why can't I get anyone on the phone" week.

It doesn't seem like such an auspicious week, does it? And yet, it will make all the difference for what Congress and even the Presidential candidates have to say in the coming months.

I recognize that most people would give the honor of "most imoprtant week for democracy" to the week of November 3rd, when citizens across the country will be voting in the Presidential election. Or maybe they'd give it to the week of August 25th or September 1st when, depending on your party, delegates gather to select a president.

What they're missing is the fact that this week represents the last opportunity for citizens to connect with their lawmakers at home before the national conventions and the end of the 110th Congress.

Why is that important? Traditionally, the views expressed by constituents during what's known as the "August district work period" dramatically impact Congress' policy agenda and schedule for the remainder of the year. This impact increases exponentially during a presidential election year.

In short, members of Congress will go to the conventions and back to DC with hearts and minds full of what they are hearing back home. So if citizens really want elected officials to listen up, whether it's on the economy, gas prices or the regulation of industry X, Y or Z, now's the time.

If you want to be most effective in your communications, stop by our Article Vault or FAQs page for more ideas on how to be a truly great advocate -- and happy advocating!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Grassroots Advocacy and the Net: Ships passing in the night?

A recent report from the EVoter Institute demonstrates an enormous disconnect between how the general public expects political campaigns and grassroots advocacy organizations to connect with them on the Internet and how effective campaigns et al view the Internet as a medium for getting their message out.
The report "Missing the Boat: How Political and Advocacy Communications Leaders Spend Campaign Funds," suggests that over 2/3rds of those who use the Internet for political information expect candidates and others to connect with them through blogs, video casts and the like. And yet only a very small portion of campaign budgets are going toward these approaches. Most campaign managers rate these tools as "ineffective" in getting their message out to voters. It's rather odd, since those running the campaigns use social media all the time!
I've run in to this same disconnect in the Association world. Many organizations feel that their members "won't use" social media tools. At the same time, most of their member are already using these tools in their daily life. Those Associations that are able to bridge the gap between personal and professional use will be providing their members with a tremendous service in the Web 2.0 (and 3.0 and 4.0) world -- and will manage to stay afloat in the process.
For more information about the EVoter Study, check out this article from Media Post.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Making the world safe for grassroots advocacy

Just saw an interesting article / report on the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest website discussing the concept of Nonprofit America as a force for democracy. The report outlines work done recently by Johns Hopkins University on the state of lobbying and advocacy in the non-profit community. Here are a few key findings:

  • 73 percent of the groups surveyed reported engaging in some type of policy advocayc or lobbying during the year
  • Well over half engage in some advocacy activity every month or more, although a very limited amount of resources are devoted to those efforts.
  • Most organizations reported that those they serve (clients, members or patrons) are rarely involved in the advocacy efforts of the organization. Most of the work is done by the executive director.
  • Most advocacy is directed toward state or local policy makers as opposed to federal.
  • People get involved for three reasons: relevance of legislation to the organization itself, relevance of the legislation to the people it serves and interest of the executive director.
  • Advocacy involvement is on the rise in the non-profit world, although the funds to undertake advocacy are still very limited.

What all this tells me is that while lobbying and advocacy are certainly an important part of non-profit life, there is SO MUCH MORE that could be done to encourage wider involvement. If one communication from an Executive Director of a group could be considered somewhat powerful, imagine the impact an organization could have with a properly mobilized grassroots army!

The good news is that most of this mobilization can be done with a limited budget using new social media tools. At a minimum, organizations wanting to enhance their advocacy efforts should set up a Facebook group and gather more supporters there. Blogs, Twitter and podcasts are other useful ways to get the word out.

I'll be doing more webinars in the future on these topics -- so stay tuned!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Blogs, Advocacy and YOU!

Just a quick note about a couple sessions I have coming up tomorrow. First of all, I'm doing an "Advocacy 101" webinar tomorrow, August 12th at 1:00pm. Learn more or register by clicking here. Second, I'm doing a session on blogging for First Class here in DC. You can learn more about that session at the First Class website.

Hmmm, what do advocacy and blogging have to do with one another? Well, the answer is communication! Blogging, if used properly, is an excellent way to get one's message out both to those that might be able to influence policy makers as well as to policy makers themselves. It's also a great way to build a business, which is the focus on the First Class session. So, whether you want to altruistically advocate or make some moolah (or both), you'll find something of value in these sessions.

Friday, August 01, 2008

MacGyver's Approach to Grassroots Advocacy

Believe it or not, I did a webinar yesterday on how MacGyver might approach grassroots advocacy. For the uninitiated, Macgyver was a larger-than-life fictional character in 1980's television who was constantly getting out of tough situations with everyday tools -- like he'd attach a ball point pen and a paper clip to a battery to generate a force field (not really, but you get the drift).

I generally think of him as the poor man's James Bond. He didn't have a fancy workshop dedicated to creating special spy devices. He just used whatever was laying around to achieve his goals.

At any rate, I think we have a lot to learn from Macgyver about advocacy, and I boiled down his approach to five basic principles, specifically:
  • Leverage: Getting an elected official to move is sometimes as much about the force you apply indirectly as the direct pressure.
  • Tools: I outlined some quick and easy advocacy tools that anyone can use -- for free!
  • Knowledge: Macgyver always had obscure knowledge about chemistry and the like. The legislative process is almost as obscure and effective advocates (especially those leading campaigns) would do well to have as much background as possible in the process.
  • Risks: Macgyver always took risks -- sometimes their necessary in advocacy as well.
  • Luck (and persistence): Anyone can make their own advocacy luck through the mastery of leverage, tools, knowledge and risks. The persistent application of these approaches will ensure that any advocate can get out of a bind - just like Macgyver.

If you want to know more about the webinar, you can download the PPT on our social network page. And happy advocating!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I finally found it!: Government Relations Assessment Tool

Several years ago, the ASAE GR Council put together a really fabulous assessment tool for any government relations program. Problem is, it got lost on my hard drive. And I mean really lost. I've been meaning to share this with folks FOREVER and I finally found it! Yippee!

This really useful piece has several "self-assessment" questions that are relevant to any lobbying entity or advocacy campaign. Highlights include:

  • Does the association have clearly stated goals and objectives in place for the government relations program? How often are the goals and objectives reviewed and is this procedure aligned with the association’s strategic planning or budgeting processes?
  • Do you have a method of tracking grassroots actions taken by your members? Can you name 100 members who have taken action in the past six months? 50 members? (can vary the number depending on size of membership) In the past month?
  • How is the relationship between the national/state/local chapter organizations? Is information shared equally? Are advocacy efforts coordinated between the units?
So, if you'd like to share in the joy, click here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Want input on how citizens communicate with Congress?

Check out the Congressional Management Foundation's report on improving communications with elected officials. They've extended their deadline to July 28th (so ignore the fact that it says "comment by July 18th.") Any grassroots advocacy efforts that struggles with getting messages that have an impact through to your elected officials, this is the perfect opportunity to do something about it! At a minimum, it should be a very cathartic experience.

Also, I read on the Sunlight Foundation's blog about a really interesting visual representation of campaign contributions based on information from Those who put it together created a depiction of a notice board, such as one might see in a local store or community center, with notes on each "flyer" about the contributions from that sector of the economy.

I think this bulletin board really shows the bewildering array of interests that contribute to election campaigns. Sure, that's not necessarily immediately comforting -- but imagine if you were a legislator who was constantly bombarded with messages from all these folks. Seems to me that instead of having industries that are easily able to "buy and sell" legislators, you might be stuck instead with an unfocused and pretty confusing mess.

Hmmm, sounds like our electoral process.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

It's what you say...

... not how you say it. Recent reports from the Congressional Management Foundation, Public Affairs Council (Grassroots Benchmarking Report) and others have many in the Association community a little "freaked-out" about the effectiveness of their grassroots advocacy communications with elected officials.

Why? Many groups spent thousands of dollars on advocacy tools designed specifically to send hundreds of form e-mails to an elected official's e-mail in-box. Turns out, these form communications are not really all that influential. These recent reports (and years of anecdotal evidence) suggest that personalized communications are the way to capture the hearts and minds of any legislative audience.

I hate to say "I told you so", but if you've attended any one of my advocacy training sessions or read anything on my site, including:

I, well, told you so!

The important point here is that this isn't to say that e-mail in and of itself is ineffective. It can be a terrific means of getting a message across -- but only so long as the content is personal, relevant and timely. Moreover, even form communications can have their place as a means of learning more about the advocate network. People who are willing to send a form e-mail are great targets for personalized follow-up communications.

Association and grassroots leaders should be looking at what seems like "dire news" about their past efforts in this context, and I have three suggestions for anyone seeking to be more effective in this brave new world:

  • Use what we've learned about form communications to inform future efforts. Consider ways to offer all advocates the opportunity to be involved at whatever level they deem appropriate
  • Identify and motivate advocates who have been willing to send form communications in the past. Train them in more personalized (and more powerful) advocacy techniques
  • Establish metrics (and expectations) that focus less on the quantity of communications and more on the quality

That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Rock the Vote!

Check out our new "Rock the Vote" link from the Advocacy Associates home page. It's the new, hip place in town to get more information on the elections and register to vote!

You can install a similar button on your site -- just go to the Rock the Vote website for more information.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Internet, Internet Everywhere!

Check out a story on Morning Edition highlighting how progressive groups are utilizng the Internet to impact Presidential campaigns. The story highlights the power of e-mails, social networks and other "Web 2.0" approaches to reach activists around the country -- without a huge budget or staff. Organizers are finding that these truly "grassroots" approaches can have as much impact as traditional "high-powered" lobbying. Grassroots advocacy will never be the same again!

You can read and listen to the story "Nonprofits Look for New Ways to Shape Campaign" by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Make the Darn Ask!

My latest newsletter features an article entitled "make the darn ask." Frankly, I'm really tired of people visiting with their elected officials and not asking for something specific! If you're going to reach out to a city council member, state legislator or member of the U.S. Congress, you need to be prepared to ask them to DO SOMETHING related to your issue -- whether it's sign on to a bill, support an appropriation or even do something easy like visit a facility in the district.

If you want to read about making the ask, as well as my responses to criticisms of that idea (such as "but I just want to say thank you" or "Everyone's always asking -- I'll be more noticeable if I don't" check out my Advocacy Tipsheet.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Navigating the Three Ring Lobby Day Circus...

My friend Brad Fitch, CEO of Knowlegis, put together a great article on coordinating your lobby days for Associations Now. The article, titled "Orchestrating the Ultimate Advocacy Circus" outlines several lobby day challenges (like what to do when attendees harbor unrealistic expectations) and offers useful solutions (YOU set the expectations in advance)...

Other issues he discusses include what to do when attendees don't stick to the script, what to do when legislative offices are uncooperative and how to establish best practices that will make your next lobby day the BEST one you've ever had.

Oh, and did I mention I'm quoted in the article? Hmmm, I wonder if that's what makes it so good?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hey Yall

So...this is my very first blog in the history of all blogs to be posted by me. I am the lone southerner here at Advocacy Associates, and yes...I have a slight accent :) It's ok though....I find when scheduling meetings people appreciate it a bit more! I came here in January and was immediately thrown into the wild world of lobby days. The strange part about it is....I actually enjoy the craziness that goes into one of these fast paced days! If you were to ask me my favorite would have to be seeing the looks on people's faces after they've come out of a fabulous meeting with their elected officials. So often, I get the privilege of chatting with these participants after their meetings. I love listening to the enthusiasm that comes from each person.....sharing the little details of their meetings and such. That being said.....if you ever see me after one of your meetings, I invite you to come sit and drink some coffee with me to discuss :) my first official blog, which probably lacks a valid has been my pleasure sharing with you my thoughts on lobby days :)

Citizen Engagement with Congress: New Report!

The Congressional Management Foundation recently came out with a follow-up to its report on How Capitol Hill is Coping with the Surge in Citizen Advocacy (2005). The new report, entitled How the Internet Has Changed Citizen Engagement included some what I consider shocking findings.

For example, did you know that almost one-half of Americans (44%) communicated in some way with Congress in the last five years? This statistic completely blew me away! I was sure it was much less. And yet, only two-thirds of those who communicated remembered actually receiving a response and, of those who did almost half (46%) were dissatisfied with the response.

Frankly, I'm just not happy with a world where over half the people communicating with Congress either did not receive a response or weren't satisfied with the one they received. It's tempting to blame Congress for this and I'm guessing that a good portion of the problem stems from the fact that individual offices have had to deal with a ten-fold increase in communications -- all with the same levels of staff that they've had for decades.

I think, though, that there's another problem here: a problem that I want to be involved in fixing! I would be willing to bet that many of the communications sent that did not elicit satisfactory responses were not entirely effective. In other words, I believe that those communicating with Congress would see much better results if they applied a few effective advocacy tweaks to their communications, such as personalization, asking for something specific, and persistent (but polite) follow-up.

The interest groups that establish these campaigns have some responsibility, I believe, in helping advocates enhance the effectiveness of their communications. According to the report, citizens rely on and trust the perspectives of those running the campaigns. If groups set different targets for communication, such as judging a campaign by the quality of communications rather than the quantity, they would wind up giving far better advice to advocates. In turn, advocates would see better responses from their elected officials and the world would be a happier place.

We may not be able to get elected officials to pay as close attention as we would like to every communication that comes in the door. That said, we can do more to make our communications worthy of notice. That's truly the mark of an effective advocate!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

White Hats vs. Black Hats in Lobbying

My friend Michael Markarian at the HSUS forwarded me this interesting Washintgon Post article about the "villification" of lobbyists by the presidential campaigns. Those quoted in the article (like Wayne Pacelle of the HSUS and Sister Snowe Campbell of Network, a group that lobbies for humanitarian causes) make the very good point that, despite the rhetoric, not all lobbyists are evil. In fact, very few lobbyists are actually evil -- and most of those are in jail.

The difference highlighted in the article is between special interest lobbyists and "cause" lobbyists. Those quoted argue that anyone who lobbies on behalf of good causes, like animals or the environment or ending poverty, should not be put in the same category as those that lobby on behalf of corporations or less "feel good" issues.

I tend to agree with that statement, but would take it one step further. Lobbying itself, no matter who does it or for what cause, is not evil. Sure, I disagree with many of the causes that people lobby on and I, personally, would not want to be involved. But so long as the people doing the lobbying for those causes actually feel strongly about what they're doing, I've got no problem with the profession they've chosen.

Sure, they are horribly misguided and I feel sorry for them, but they aren't evil. Frankly, I think the rhetoric on the campaign trail is really harming what should be considered a worthwhile and, in some cases, downright noble practice.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Attack of the Mutant Christmas Trees

I love it when people make advocacy fun. I just read in Associations Now magazine about a game on the National Christmas Tree Association site (yes, there really is a National Christmas Tree Association, Viriginia).

The association worked with a game developer to create a computer game that both entertains and informs. To play, just go to the site and click on the "Games" section. You may need to download a "plug in." Basically, your role in the game is to throw snowballs at all the fake trees that pop-up -- fake trees that are destroying the spirit of Christmas!

As you progress through the game, you'll learn some fascinating things I'll bet you never knew about Christmas Trees -- like they're grown in all 50 states. Really! All 50. That means every member of the U.S. Senate and a whole bunch of members of the U.S. House have christmas tree growers in their district. See, I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't played the game!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Resources, resources everywhere!

If you haven't checked out our social network page, you really should. We have tons of FREE downloadable resources available, including PPTs from our webinars, checklists, templates and all kinds of other fun stuff for advocacy.

I'd also like to encourage people to use the forum tools to ask their advocacy questions. I base a lot of the webinar discussions on questions and issue that people raise both on the site and off. If you're curious enough to ask it on our forum it probably means that others are struggling with the issue as well!

Thanks and happy advocating!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Obama and "HisSpace"

Really interesting article in The Atlantic about Obama's use of social campaign techniques and how that might translate in to presidential "stuff" (don't worry, they put it far more eloquently than that :)).

The author makes the point that many President's in our history have stood at the Vanguard of a new technology and/or way of communicating. Andrew Jackson and the printing press, Abraham Lincoln and newspapers, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his fireside chats... You get the picture. I am reminded of the role talk radio played in the Republican takeover of the House in 1994. Most democrats did not realize the power it would have -- until it was too late. As noted in the article:

"No other candidate in this or any other election has ever built a support network like Obama’s. The campaign’s 8,000 Web-based affinity groups, 750,000 active volunteers, and 1,276,000 donors have provided him with an enormous financial and organizational advantage in the Democratic primary."

How will his enthusasim for and understanding of the Internet be demonstrated in his presidency? I (and others) predict a more participatory government, where citizens might:
  • Indicate online which policies they "DIGG" and which they don't
  • Comment on the blogs that every federal agency would be required to post
  • Participate on federal "social networking" sites to improve government services
  • Utilize a Google-like search tool to learn more about government spending
  • Review federal agency statements via YouTube
  • Subcribe to the PodCasts of agencies they want to learn more about

And that would be just the beginning. What about a model program where citizens directly decide on the fate of executive branch initiative themselves? The list (and possibilities) go on and on...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jazzing Up Your Advocacy

Check out my recent newsletter on five lessons I learned from the New Orleans Jazz Fest about effective advocacy. It sounds weird, I know, but stick with me... Believe it or not, coalitions, strategizing and improvisation are as important in advocacy as they are in jazz.

You can access the latest tipsheet -- and a whole bunch of others -- here.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Polls, polls everywhere!

If you're ever curious as to how people feel about Washington, DC, the presidential campaign or politics in general, check out the periodic Washington Post poll.  Poll questions include "Do you approve or disapprove of the job President Bush is doing" (this just in:  he's not doing so well in the opinion polls -- hopefully the wedding this weekend will help with matters).  

There are also a series of questions on Iraq, the Economy and the ongoing joy that has been the presidential campaign (news flash:  people are getting bored and irritated).  Interestingly, though, as the campaign goes on and voters get to know all the candidates on all sides, EVERYONE'S unfavorables are trending up.  And for some odd reason, the poll asks for favorable / unfavorable impressions of Bill Clinton who, last time I checked, is not actually running.

One of the more entertaining set of questions is on the economy.  When asked whether they were pessimistic or optimistic about the national economy, about 60% of respondents were pessimistic.  Yet, about 65% of respondents were optimistic about their own finances.

I guess that's the same phenomenon that makes voters feel optimistic about their own elected officials while at the same time vehemently opposing the "rest of the bums" in Washington, DC. Odd, that...  

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Does "Flooding the Lines" Work?

I just read about a new service called "Floodthelines". The goal of the service is to get people affiliated with an advocacy camaign to make a steady stream of phone calls to the target (such as elected officials). Organizers can post information about the cause, talking points, information about the targets and the service will set up a reminder system to send e-mails to remind supporters to call on a certain date and time. For now at least, the service is free.

The developers' argument is that e-mails and petitions are easily ignored (true!), but that a telephone ringing in a decision-makers office will create a sense of urgency that inspires action. I have to say that I'm sceptical about that last claim. I think telephone campaigns are effective only if they meet three criteria:

1) The people calling the decision maker are relevant to that decision maker (i.e., consituents)

2) Supporters actually make the phone calls -- this type of approach probably won't work for a number of the "soft" initiatives that many groups in DC lobby on where it's tough to get advocates to make calls.

3) You're in a venue where having a phone call every three minutes is a big deal. The phones on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC already ring pretty much non-stop. I can't imagine being able to generate enough RELEVANT communication to make an impression on already overloaded Congressional offices.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying you shouldn't check it out (hey, free is free!). Just consider it one of many tools in an advocacy campaigns arsenal. And be sure that more of your effort is focused on working with advocates to generate personalized, thoughtful, non-"form" communications. Those are what really make the difference.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Are you satisfied with what you're getting for your taxes?

So I visited with my accountant today and, well, it wasn't all that pleasant. No offense to my accountant, but I just really don't like tax time. No matter how much I try I never seem to be emotionally prepared for seeing all the numbers.

The biggest number, of course, is the amount of money I've paid in taxes. I wouldn't mind seeing that ridiculously large amount if I felt like it was going toward things I care about.

To be fair, some of the funds are, in my opinion, well invested. I like helping older and low-income individuals pay for health care. I like having roads and I'm a fan of having drinkable water and garbage pickup. I also like public broadcasting, libraries, homeless shelters and a whole bunch of other stuff. To me, these are worthwhile investments.

The problem, though, is that some of the items on my "worthwhile investments" list are on other people's "I can't believe we're spending money on that" list and vis-versa. That's why we have a system of government that gives individual citizens the right to petition for one set of investments and complain about the other.

Essentially, we have an important tool at our disposal to make our opinions heard -- loud and clear -- about how we want our hard earned dollars spent. It's called citizen advocacy. So, if you're feeling down about your taxes, take a moment to look at how those funds are being spent, and then let your elected officials know what's right or wrong with that scenario.

For resources on how tax dollars are spent, check out the National Priorities Project interactive tax chart, where you can enter in the specific amount you paid in taxes and get a chart of how that funding broke down. I think you'll be surprised. I know I was!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Wouldn't It Be Nice If Congress Were ONLY a Virtual World?

On April 1st, the House Commerce Committee held what has been touted as one of the first real, live Congressional hearings in a virtual world. This begs the question "what is real?" Apparently, online virtual worlds like Second Life are becoming significant enough players to capture the attention of elected officials and their staff, according to a recent Washington Post article on the subject.

Citizens of Second Life (only a few of the "saner" ones, not the ones that have a tendency to fly around, it should be noted), sat in on the hearing. A few of the members of Congress even had their own avatars as part of the fun. Some recognized the irony of members of Congress being reflected as "avatars" (as in "gods"), although fortunately most of the members condescended to admit that they weren't ACTUALLY gods, lest any of us be confused.

Serious discussion topics included both the benefits and downside virtual worlds. But I think the real issue here is this: Who's scared that Congress is the "real world" in this scenario. I am, a little bit.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Where Are They Now: Tracking Down Former Members and Staff

If you spent several years working as a mechanic and then decided to become a car designer, wouldn’t it be a good idea to use your expertise as a person who used to fix the cars in helping your former employer build better ones?

Or, if you spent several years working as a magazine writer and then went to work for a company as a media specialist, wouldn’t it be smart to use your connections in the magazine industry to help get stories placed about your new employer?

Or how about this – if you spent several years as an admissions officer at a school, would a viable future job choice be helping college bound students through the application process?

In all of these circumstances, people have built a level of understanding on how a process works and then applied that understanding for their future employers. It’s called earning a living.

Why, then, is it so unforgivable for former members of Congress and their staff to earn a living post-Congress working as lobbyists? And yet that seems to be the gist of a new Sunlight Foundation project called “Where Are They Now.” The project is tracking down the post-Congress job information of former members and staff to see if they have filed any lobbying registrations.

Now, before we get all personal here, let me clarify that I am not a lobbyist. I have no clients that pay me to present their views to Congress. I actually train others how to effective citizen lobbyists. This may be even worse, you be the judge. In full disclosure, I will say that I have contributed to Congressional campaigns, and you can read all about that at
That said, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that members of Congress and former staff shouldn’t become lobbyists because they have special access to and expertise in the Congressional system – access and expertise that no one else has.

Umm, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do in developing our careers? Learn about something, build contacts, get really good at it and then earn money? Obviously, I agree 100% that people should be prevented from peddling that influence in a dishonest way (through bribery, trickery or other nefarious schemes). But should they be shunned and/or ridiculed for honest efforts to influence Congress on policy issues they care about?

Critics might suggest that the Sunlight Foundation is simply shedding light on this phenomenon and, to be honest, I have no problem with this in theory. However, the context in which it has been presented, complete with the tongue-in-cheek references to “jailed” members of Congress makes me think that this is more than a simple effort to keep people informed.

If we simply want to keep people informed, why not set up a true “where are they now” process that does not focus exclusively on lobbying registrations? Sure, that would be useful information, but I’d also like to know if there are former members of Congress and/or their staff that are doing other great things. My point is that in shedding light on just this one aspect of “where are they now”, the Sunlight Foundation may be doing even more harm to the public’s perception of Congress than good.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

New Report on Congressional Communications

New Report on Congress

I want to be sure tipsheet readers know about a new report on Congress that runs counter to everything I’ve ever said about effective advocacy. Among other things, this report suggests that:

  • Members of Congress pay most attention to the people that live outside their district, not to their constituents.
  • Citizens should never send personal letters. Petitions and form communications work just fine.
  • The staff people for elected officials actually like it when you treat them badly and suggest that you’re disappointed to be meeting with or talking to “just them.”

    April Fools!

OK, there is no such report. In fact, all the evidence suggests the contrary. But, in honor of April Fools day I thought I’d imagine what the world of advocacy would be like if we turned some of the fundamental rules on their head. For more, check out the April Fool's edition of the tipsheet.

Friday, March 21, 2008

What Clinton's Schedule REALLY Says

Everyone is talking about the schedule Hillary Clinton kept as first lady and whether that translates into certain level of expertise in policy issues, both foreign and domestic. Detractors argue that her various meetings and ceremonial activities were purely "fluff", while others point to speeches, meetings and other events that required a clear, calm and collected intelligence (as well as diplomacy and, in a couple cases, bullet proof vests). You can read some about these perspectives through coverage in the Washington Post.

What no one has really said about these schedules, however, is the apalling environment in which serious, complex and sometimes life-or-death decisions get made! Imagine a schedule where from 4:35 to 4:40pm you are presented with a gift, from 4:40 to 4:50pm you are told to give a speech thanking the giver and then from 4:50 to 6:00pm you're meeting with a Congressional committee about health care. Who can make rational decisions when they are hopping back and forth between audiences, issues and tasks?

Rarely do I see in an elected officials' schedule something along the lines of "2:00pm to 4:00pm: Thoughtful contemplation of the potential solutions to our nation's health care problems." Or, "3:00 to 4:30pm: learn something about the budget process before I go out and vote on it." This is not the fault of opinion leaders. Anyone who trys to disappear for a few short hours to undertake some research is often seen as lazy. In DC, as in other major cities, the rule is "go, go, go."

Sometimes, it's better to stop and smell the roses (or the tax code as it were). Less scurrying about and more thoughtful contemplation might make for more rational decisions.

Just a though -- now I'm dashing off to sleep!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

March Madness on Capitol Hill

Well, I've had quite an exciting week. First of all, the team here at the Advocacy Associates empire organized hundreds of Congressional meetings for two different Washington, DC fly-ins, both of which occurred on March 11th. That wouldn't be notable in and of itself except that one of them took place at the Mayflower Hotel here in Washington, DC.

Yes, THAT Mayflower hotel - the very one where Governor Spitzer, ummm, "stayed" in February. So yours truly had the joy of being at the Mayflower the day the news broke. We were so swamped with phone calls and meeting changes during the day that I didn't even hear the news until I called my husband at 6:00pm to say, without understanding the humor at all, "well, I just finished my day at the Mayflower and now I'm going home."

Really. That's what I said. The silence on the other end of the line was deafening (although perhaps he was laughing so hard he couldn't speak).

More important though is the fact that March 11th was perhaps one of the busiest days I have ever witnessed on Capitol Hill. There were literally tens of thousands of advocates in town all seeking meetings with their elected officials. Unfortunately, many offices simply couldn't accommodate all the requests, and some advocates were turned away.

If you want to find some ways to avoid the March Madness and get your message heard, check out our latest tipsheet on the topic!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The New Lobbying: It's not Just for the Rich and Powerful Anymore!

It is established wisdom that special interests use campaign funds to buy access to lawmakers and that lobbying is akin to the world's oldest profession. However, a couple recent articles in the Washington Post suggest that this knee jerk reaction to the goings-on in Washington, DC may not be 100% accurate.

First, on Feb. 14th came an article entitled "Home Builders Halt Campaign Funds After Setback"which chronicled the decision by the home builders PAC to stop making contributions to members of Congress after not getting certain policy provisions in the emergency economic stimulus bill. The message that some people are taking away from this is "See, there you have it. Lobbyists give campaign contributions and expect favors in return." In my opinion, the more important message is "See, you can be one of the biggest PAC contributor and lobbying organization on the planet and you still can't buy yourself in to the legislative process."

My perspective, which some may call naive, was confirmed in a recent article in the Post magazine entitled "How Lobbyists Always Win." In it, the efforts of the Disney corporation to increase congressional support for tourism were discussed at some length. Interestingly, the article talked more about the advetising, marketing, grassroots and networking components of lobbying than campaign contributions. In fact, the author Jeffrey Birnbaum points to a "new breed" of lobbyists more likely to find success through a combination of non-traditional factors as opposed to just "access by powerful people" and "strategic campaign funding."

The good news is that one of the pillars of this new approach is plain, old ordinary citizens like you and I. We don't have to be leaders of industry or big campaign contributors or even relatives of an elected official to have an impact -- as long as we care about an issue and make an effort to participate, we can be more powerful than all the homebuilder and mickey mouse PACs combined.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Duper Tuesday

I have long argued that the most important reason to vote is that it gives you the right to whine about the outsome. Given the high and, in some cases, record turnouts in the recent primaries, we're going to see a whole lot of whining come 2009.

It's great to see so many people getting out there to vote -- now if we could get them to extend their involvement to encompass ongoing communication with government then I, as the Advocacy Guru, would be happy. Maybe we should get little buttons that look like those "I Voted" buttons that say "I Advocated" and give them to everyone who visits with, writes, calls or otherwise expresses an opinion to their elected officials.

Hmmm, that actually sounds like an interesting idea. I'm on it...

In the meantime, while you're waiting for the buttons, if you want to keep an eye on delegate counts, check out the CNN Election Board It will keep you entertained at least through March.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Year New Advocacy Podcast

Our new podcast "New Year New Advocacy" is now available for download

In this podcast from Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru at Advocacy Associates, we offer three New Year's Resolutions for more effective grassroots in 2008.

Repeat after me...

I resolve to focus your efforts on fewer personalized communications (vs. form e-mails);
I resolve to utilize grassroots advocacy techniques effectively during the election cycle;
I resolve to learn more about effective advocacy techniques.

Listen and feel rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to make the world a better place for your issues!

(Oh, and if you're old fashioned, you can read the podcast transcript online)