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!