Thursday, June 11, 2015

Are Your Action Alerts Not Getting the Response You'd Like? Join the Crowd

If your advocacy alerts aren’t generating as much action as you would like, don’t worry. You’re not alone. According to M+R Benchmarks’ 2015 report, non-profts see an average of only 29 actions from every 1,000 e-mails sent. This is down 18% from 2014. So, yeah. It’s getting more and more difficult to get advocates to take action.

At the same time, the success rates in getting people to hand over cash to the organization (i.e., fundraising e-mails) is INCREASING. I suspect there might be a connection between these two trends. Many people don’t believe their voice matters, so they don’t want to take action. But they still want the organization to be able to make a difference (whether in advocacy or other arenas), so they give money.

What can we do with this? Well, we want to keep the momentum on money coming in going while also boosting advocacy action rates, right? So how do we do that? Two pretty obvious options occur to me:

First, increase the size of your audience. Many organizations are turning to social media to get the word out to more people, and potential advocates are starting to get on the bandwagon. In fact, the rate of Facebook likes and Twitter follows is increasing far more than e-mail sign-ups.  As more and more people turn to these sites (while deleting your e-mails), you better be sure you’ve got a social media strategy for your action alerts.

Second, get more of the 1,000 people receiving the e-mails to take action. Maybe (and this is something explored in much more detail in the M+R report) if you tie fundraising goals to advocacy outcomes, you’ll be able to leverage that to get more people to participate in the policy process. Maybe.

Anyway, I’m just touching on the tip of the iceberg here. There is a ton of really great information in here. To get your paws on it (for free – or, at least, in exchange for your e-mail address), go to You can download in either 3D and 2D, but I recommend the 2D, as most of us don’t have 3D glasses laying around (or is this a thing I don’t know about?). Check out the tool that allows you to compare your association to the industry standards and even make a cool infographic. Seriously, it’s pretty awesome.

- Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

4 Pet Peeves All Congressional Staffers Share

At a recent Women in Government Relations’ event, current and just-escaped Congressional staffers had a very cathartic experience. They had the opportunity to share with us a few pet peeves. The good news is that there’s nothing earth-shatteringly new here. The bad news is that there’s nothing earth-shatteringly new here. It seems that many of us are making the same mistakes over and over again. I’m doing my civic duty by sharing some of the highlights (or lowlights) of the conversation.

Don’t tell staff you pay their salaries. Whenever someone told me this I would hand them a dime (the per capita amount of my salary for the number of constituents in the district) and say “Great. Now we’re even.” You personally do not pay each staff person’s salary. You pay a portion of their salary. That salary is also paid for by people who believe the exact opposite of what you do. The staff work 50 to 60 (to 80) hours per week trying to reconcile those two viewpoints.  Believe me. You’re getting a lot for your money.

Talk to the right person – and that means the person who handles your issues. If you want to talk about saving balloon animals, don’t bypass the balloon animal LA. Too many people think that talking to the Chief of Staff or Legislative Director is somehow better than talking to the person who actually deals with the issue on a day-to-day basis. This is not true. Don’t do it.

Don’t threaten. Hopefully, it’s obvious that threatening bodily harm is a big no-no on Capitol Hill. Then the Capitol police get involved, and no one wants that. But threatening other kinds of retaliation – I won’t vote for you, I won’t contribute to your campaign, I’ll tell all my friends I hate you – doesn’t work either. Remember that the offices are hearing the exact same thing from people on the other side of the issue. They prefer to work with people who want to find an area of agreement, as opposed to those who say “it’s my way or the highway.”

Know something about who you’re talking to:  You don’t have to be as obsessed as I am about looking up bills they've introduced or reading their websites. But knowing things like what party they’re a member of, where they are on the political spectrum and even whether they’ve already cosponsored the bill you’re begging them to cosponsor will really help move the conversation along.*

There were many, many more pet peeves, but this is good for starters. It basically boils down to ‘put yourself in their shoes.’ When you do that, you’re meetings will be more productive and enjoyable for all.

* And if you’re really interested in that last part, particularly as it relates to sending advocates up to Capitol Hill, you HAVE to check out our AdvocacyDay app. You can also avoid another of their pet peeves, ‘having multiple people ask for the same meeting,’ if you work with us to schedule your event.

- Written by:  Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Breaking Congressional Update: National Pickle Week

For those interested in what’s happening in Congress, I thought you’d be interested in this statement from the Congressional Record of April 1st, 2015 regarding a very important national issue.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to inform the members of this august body that my dear friend, the esteemed gentleman from the Great State of California, whose love of country I admire and respect, is a sanctimonious jerk. The legislation he brings to us today does nothing less than attack the very core of our democracy.

I speak, of course, of his proposal to establish a National Pickle Week. If passed, this bill would allow the purveyors of pickle propaganda to brainwash millions of Americans into embracing a pro-brine lifestyle.

Let me be clear. No one enjoys pickles more than myself. I eat those of the bread and butter variety on hamburgers. I eat sweet relish, replete with onions and mustard, on that great American treat, the hot dog. I even drink the juice, which I understand goes well with whisky.

But I ask you, my dear colleagues, what of the other pickled vegetables? String beans, okra and peppers have done as much, if not more, to preserve the freedom we as citizens of this great nation enjoy. And indeed, where is our effort to honor other garnishes? Capers? Cocktail Onions? Almond-stuffed olives? In singling out pickles for such recognition, we send the message that we will cave in to what I can only describe as the ISIS of the pickled vegetable world.

I would never suggest that my cherished companion, whose integrity I admire, would introduce this legislation at the bidding of the pickle lobby. The fact that he accepted over $100,000 in campaign contributions from the Acme Pickle Corporation has no bearing on this discussion. Nevertheless, we, as the preservers of democracy, must stand up to this powerful special interest. We, and only we, stand between freedom and pickle domination.

Now before you get yourself all in a huff about the stupid goings-on in Congress, remember that today is APRIL FOOLS DAY! The citizens of this great nation are safe from the horrors of National Pickle Week. Now let the “This is too true to be satire” comments begin.

- Written by Advocacy Guru, Stephanie Vance

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Learn How to Effectively Train Your Advocates!

I’ve decided it’s time to share my Guru secrets with others trying to spread the advocacy gospel, and I’m starting with a workshop on April 17th titled How to Deliver an Effective Advocacy Training. It’s designed for anyone responsible for training advocates on everything from general grassroots engagement to having a great meeting on Capitol Hill. You’ll find more information by clicking on the pretty picture below:

You might wonder why I’d teach other people what I do for a living. It’s mainly because people have asked me to. Also I’m getting old and it’s time to pass along some of the Advocacy Guru’s secrets (which is what I understand gurus do).

There’s a whole long list of what we’ll cover on the registration page.  It’s the usual stuff (pre-event webinars, getting advocates ready for the hill, integrating role-playing, what advocates want, etc.). Also, all participants will receive template power points, handouts for advocates and a step-by-step guide on how to use it all.

If you’re interested, here are the details. If you’re not, just stop reading.

When: April 17, 2015 Ι 12:30 pm - 4:00 pm

Where: 1030 15th St NW, Ste 750 West, Washington, DC 20005

Register: Click here to register online. $299 includes access to the half day seminar, all materials and working lunch.

Questions? Call 1-888-265-0600 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

How to Connect with Federal Agencies

If you are for or against certain regulations within pieces of legislation like The Affordable Care Act or the Food and Drug Act and want to advocate on those issues, you may think that you should ask your Members of Congress take steps to change the law. However, unless the legislation you care about is up for reauthorization, you’re not going to get very far by asking your Senators and Representative to change the way the law is enforced.  It’s actually federal agencies (for example, the FDA or the FCC) that are responsible for creating the federal regulations that enforce the laws passed by Congress. So if you want a regulation within a passed law to be changed, that falls within the appropriate federal agency’s jurisdiction.

The problem is that reaching out directly to federal agencies will not be incredibly influential on your part. This is because you’re not the one who puts the FCC commissioners in their jobs, and you’re not the one who helps directly finance the commissioner’s budget—Congress is. Congress sets the appropriations and approves the commissioners, so they’re going to be the ones who have the most influence. Since you, as a constituent, influence your legislators and since legislators influence federal agencies, the best course of action for you to take is to ask your Members of Congress to reach out to federal agencies on your behalf. Ask them to write a letter to the agency in regards to the particular regulation you want changed. If you have a question about a regulation, talk to the Legislative Correspondents in your Member’s office and they will kick that question over to the Congressional Relations Office of the appropriate agency. Follow up every couple of weeks until you get a response. The more you demonstrate that you’re interested in it (and the more polite you are about it), the more likely it is that you’ll get a response. 

-  Written by:  Kaytee Yakacki

Friday, February 27, 2015

Is it White and Gold? Or Black and Blue?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the great “is-the-dress-white-and-gold-or-blue-and-black” controversy. Let me start by saying I have no definitive answer. I, like many of us here in Washington, DC, am not a scientist. What I find most interesting is the public’s response to what we all hopefully can agree is not the most critical question of our time. And what I’ve seen scares me a little. People are becoming intransigent, immovable, -- one might even say irrational -- in their opinions. And yet it’s clear that – hey – two people can see the same thing in different ways.

To paraphrase my colleague Nick Tobenkin (who’s not particularly concerned about the dress’ color), the fact that everyone has become so entrenched in their perspective explains a little about our political process. If we argue so vociferously about a dress, is it any wonder we can’t come to an agreement about the federal budget or immigration or health care? I think we should view this experience as evidence that people really do see the world in fundamentally different ways, both physically and mentally. And perhaps if we recognize that we can come to understand each other a little better.

As for me? When I woke up this morning to the barrage of increasingly angry Facebook posts, I took one look, decided the dress was white and gold and then wondered what all the broo-ha-ha was about. I saw no inkling of black and blue. But later today, after all the controversy and drama, I saw the picture again. It looked black and blue—so much so that I wondered who’d changed it. I’m going to take that as a sign of an open mind, willing to consider compromise. Or it could just be old age. But I’m going to stick with the former.

- Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru at Advocacy Associates

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Social Media: A Cautionary Tale

Raise your hand if you’ve ever posted something stupid online. A joke. A picture. A Facebook status update or comment… Or have you ever had anything you’ve posted be misinterpreted? My hand’s up, and I bet yours is too -- as is the hand of every member of Congress, I’m sure.

We all do it, and we sometimes get called out, whether fairly or not. A friend of mine posted this interesting New York Times piece about a woman whose life turned into a nightmare when she tweeted something she says she thought was satire, but others took seriously.  The person who publicly shamed her later apologized. But it was too late.  She’d already lost her job along with any credibility in her field.

This cautionary tale made me resolve to think more carefully about what I post online, as well as what I’m going to get outraged about. Sure, there are some easy ‘immediate outrage’ situations, especially in the political world. Anthony Weiner comes to mind. And there are plenty of people who repeatedly post hurtful, dreadful, personally degrading things. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t point fingers where finger pointing is necessary and even valuable. And as public figures, politicians should be held to a higher standard.

But in some cases, especially when these tweets happen during heated political debates, people hit send before they think, and they regret it later. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are terrible people (yeah, some are). It means they made a mistake. And sometimes those mistakes aren’t even substantive. Sometimes it’s just something they thought was funny and no one else did.

My first boss in Washington, DC once told me ‘never say anything you wouldn’t want on the front page of the Washington Post.’ This has become even more important, and more difficult, in the social media age. If we want a more civilized political discourse, perhaps we can all give each other a break every once in a while. I promise to do so if you will too.

-Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Congressional Offices DO Pay Attention to What You Post on Social Media!

In October 2014, the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) released some polling information that provides shocking news about social media and its impact on legislative offices. At least I thought it was shocking, but maybe that’s because I’m old.

For the longest time, social media used to be a somewhat challenging way to get a Congressional office’s attention, mainly because it’s not ‘place-based.’ In other words, legislators and their staff have no way of knowing whether the people commenting on their blogs, Facebook pages, or Twitter accounts are constituents.  And since constituents rule when it comes to policy decisions, that meant that social media could go only so far in influencing outcomes.

Well, that’s apparently changing. The study suggests that the inability to separate constituent communications from those outside the district “doesn’t really matter much to lawmakers, who see social media more as a barometer of public opinion” (attributed to Brad Fitch, President and CEO of CMF). As with any advocacy campaign, though, the quality of the communications matter more than the quantity. Staffers can tell the difference between the mass tweets encouraged by an advocacy group and the ‘real deal.’ And when it comes to the real deal, a majority of offices polled said that even a single constituent commenting on their own was considered influential. Even in the social media world, one personalized communication can make a difference.

So find your legislators on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn  -- whatever have you – and start commenting. Politely, please. 

- Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

State of the Union 2015 and Why It's Important

Last night, President Obama delivered his second-to-last State of the Union.  As you’re probably aware, the president delivers an address to Congress at the beginning of each new year detailing his perception of how life in America has been progressing and areas in which he sees room for improvement.  This speech precedes the release of the President’s formal budget proposal each year.

Watch the 2015 State of the Union here.
Read a transcript of the 2015 State of the Union here.
Watch the Republican Party’s official response to the State of the Union here.

In his speech, the President focused on what he termed “middle class economics.”  Essentially, this is the idea that if people work hard and are given equal opportunities, our economy thrives.  He addressed numerous issues including childcare, education, workers’ rights, energy and the environment, jobs, infrastructure, healthcare, veterans, race relations, and foreign policy.  He stressed the importance of compromise and overcoming partisan gridlock in Congress.

Yet, thinking about the context of last night’s speech, there are a few important factors to keep in mind.  First of all, Obama is now a lame duck president.  This means that he no longer has to worry about running for reelection, nor does he really need to concern himself with the politics surrounding midterm elections.  For this reason, he has little to lose politically based on the assertions he makes, so last night we saw him speak emphatically about his stance on some fairly divisive issues like immigration reform, health insurance, and Wall Street regulation.  He even threatened to veto legislation he believes would be a step backwards in these areas.   Furthermore, it’s important to keep in mind that Republicans took control of the House of Representatives last November, giving them control of both chambers of Congress.  The State of the Union is meant as a guide to give Congress a sense of the President’s priorities, but it is in no way legally binding.  Because Republicans now hold the majority, it is unlikely they will follow many of the recommendations he laid out.

This year, President Obama has projected February 2nd, 2015 as the date he will present his formal budget for funding federal programs to Congress.  Again, this budget is not legally binding and a republican Congress is unlikely to pay a great deal of attention to it when crafting legislation for appropriations.  It will, however, provide further insight into the Administration’s priorities for the President’s last two years in office, and you can expect many of those priorities to mirror the ones laid out in his speech last night.

So, you’re probably wondering why this really matters to you.  As an advocate, think about the issue or issues you care about.  Did Obama mention them in his speech last night?  Did he speak favorably about them?  Are they divisive issues?  Answering these questions will give you an idea of how you will need to talk to both democratic and republican Members of Congress about your issues.  While their individual stances will be more nuanced, it is likely that, at least on the surface, democrats will agree with the President’s agenda and Republicans will oppose it.  Understanding the state of our Union, as it stands, can help you craft your personal legislative advocacy plan for the final years of Obama’s presidency.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Communicating with the Capitol: Be Grateful

We've all been in situations where we've worked really hard on something and just want that hard work to be recognized, right?  I know that if I put a lot of time and effort into a project or an idea and it goes entirely unnoticed, I’ll find myself questioning why I worked so hard in the first place.

On the Hill, Members of Congress and their staff are constantly bombarded with requests from all sides, to the point where they can’t possibly meet everyone’s demands.  For this reason, if an office follows through on something you've been requesting, it’s incredibly important to make note of what they've done for you and thank them for it.  It may seem self-evident, but gratitude goes a long way with staff members who spend much of their day trying to assuage cranky and frustrated constituents.  Therefore, if an office takes the time to work with you on an issue, introduce a bill you’ve been advocating for, set up a hearing, or something similar, make sure you recognize the work they have done and show how much you appreciate their willingness to help.

Because of the somewhat constant stream of whining Hill staffers endure on a daily basis, I can pretty much guarantee that simply saying thank you and recognizing their hard work will go a long way.  They certainly won't question their decision to work with you and they will be that much more likely to help you out in the future!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Communicating with the Capitol: How to Effectively Use Social Media

These days, it seems like success is often measured by followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook.  Seriously, how good do you feel when your tweet gets retweeted or someone comments on that picture you posted over the weekend?

Social media has been the cool new thing for a while now, and it seems like it’s here to stay.  When it comes to communicating with your representatives, it can provide unique opportunities in two primary ways.

1.   Staying up-to-date:  Social media is a great way to figure out where your Members of Congress are and what they’re up to.  They’ll post about events they’re attending, when they’ll be back in the state or district, and what issues they’re working on.  This is a great way to stay in the loop about the latest news and possibly even find out about events like town hall meetings you may want to attend.
2.   Voicing your opinion on a current and specific issue:  Because social media is constantly changing and updating to reflect trending topics, it’s a great way to voice your opinion on issues or legislation that are being discussed in real time.  Unlike letters, which need to go through a screening process that takes nearly two weeks, social media posts can reach the office instantly.  Many Congressional offices have added a staff position to their press team with the sole responsibility of monitoring and responding to social media.  With the creation of these positions, it means that offices will definitely see your comments, and if those comments are constructive and thoughtful, they will likely even respond.  Social media makes quick back-and-forth dialogue possible in a way that previous communication methods (letters, phone calls, and even emails) have not.  And while you may not always get a response, the more active you are on social media (in a polite, respectful, and thoughtful way!!), the more likely the staff will recognize your name and pay attention to what you have to say.

(Added bonus:  Several social media press staffers on the Hill have told me that their bosses, aka Members of Congress, love social media and are constantly looking at their own pages.  For other types of constituent correspondence, such as email and phone calls, they simply get briefings from staff about the important ones at the end of the week.  Thus, being an active social media poster makes it that much more likely your legislator will see your opinion first hand!).

One other tip!  As I’ve said before, Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents.  Social media makes it difficult to tell who is a constituent and who is not.  If you have any way of identifying yourself as a constituent (i.e. providing you town name or zip code in a post), the office is much more likely to pay attention to your post and even respond!

Social media is a great way to actively engage with legislators.  It in no way replaces the importance of emails and phone calls, but it can certainly enhance your engagement and provide effective alternatives for getting your voice heard in Congress!