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 C-Span.org

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 www.house.gov or www.senate.gov. 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 http://www.rockthevote.com/. 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 http://www.advocacyassociates.com/.) 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 InsideLobbying.com, 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 habit@advocacyguru.com 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 MoveOn.org 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