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!