Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Helping Advocates Help Themselves

In a dream world, all citizens are excited and enthusiastic about communicating with legislators. They join interest groups to be updated on all the latest and greatest policy information and use every tool at their disposal to call, write, visit and send carrier pigeons to members of Congress or the state legislature.

While this is certainly the case with some groups, others struggle with getting their members to engage. There’s often a disconnect between what members would like to see happen from a policy perspective in Washington, DC and their understanding of the critical role they play in achieving those goals.

So if you’re leading an advocacy effort, how do you address this disconnect? In the next series of blog posts we’ll look at five barriers, specifically:

  • I don’t have time to advocate

  • My voice won’t make a difference

  • Isn’t advocacy what we pay our lobbyists for?

  • It seems like we’re always advocating and never getting anywhere

  • I don’t agree with the organization’s policy position

If your grassroots are wilting as a result of any of these issues, stay tuned! For now we’ll look at the first, “I don’t have time to advocate.”

Far and away, this is what I hear the most. If you’re working with individuals who also have lives away from politics (generally everyone outside Washington, DC), they may feel that they don’t have a lot of extra time to devote to advocacy.

One solution is to identify a few quick, easy and meaningful activities to get them started. These might include putting together a short pledge for them to print out and sign as a reminder of their commitment, asking them to join your advocacy network and agree to take action through that network, providing information and links for them to post on social media sites or creating a petition for them to sponsor while encouraging others to do so as well.

Now, don’t get me wrong. These are not “busy work” activities. We’re all too busy for busy work. What you’re really doing is helping activists recognize the ways in which advocacy can be integrated into their everyday lives. Sometimes they want to be active but don't know what to do. As an advocate leader, you can follow-up directly with those who have taken that small action to help them with more. Once they’ve done one thing, they’re more likely to find time to do another.

In short, when you learned to swim (if you did) did someone throw you into the deep end and expect you to succeed? Well, come to think of it, I have heard of that strategy. I’ve just never been a fan. I prefer taking a few steps at a time to build expertise and confidence – and only then being thrown into the deep end.

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