An Executive Director's point of view


March 27, 2017: Advocacy

The goal of advocacy is to identify decision-makers, determine what it will take to influence them (legally and ethically, of course), and execute a plan to do that.

The tactics will vary from one situation to another and will likely include a number of activities of unequal importance.

Two tactics members may rush to embrace are often the least important - legislative testimony and collection of petition signatures.

Testifying before legislative committees will score public relations points more than it will influence legislators.

And reading a lengthy, detailed statement will just bore legislators - if they are even listening.

The greatest benefit of a petition drive is the opportunity to construct a database. You can amass a list of supporters who can be contacted to participate in advocacy campaigns.

Decision-makers will judge the viability of the activity by the amount of support they believe it represents (and that has to be substantial) and by the perceived ability of the group to generate activity that can harm legislators or help them.

Submitting one thousand signatures to a legislator who represents one hundred thousand voters, for example, is pretty insignificant.

The most important tactic that can be employed is face-to-face contact with decision-makers (in person, not remote).

So, do all the things that comprise a successful advocacy campaign - coalition-building, face-to-face lobbying, public hearings, legislative testimony, submission of petitions, letter-writing and email campaigns, fly-ins, media spots, editorial support, and more.

But always be sure to speak in person to the decision-makers. That is the most important step.

March 23, 2017: Public policy fight

Development of a pubic policy is not the result of well-intentioned people dialoging about an issue and crafting a reasonable position that satisfies both of them.

It is a fight in which adversaries strive to win as much as possible. Compromise is a back-up plan, only accepted when total victory is not achievable.

So, don't be squeamish about confronting opponents and engaging in battle. Develop a strategy to outmaneuver, outwit, and outlast them.

The goal is to win. If you back off because you don't like conflict, then you will lose.

December 26, 2016: A Congressional briefing

I keep talking about this because so many people do it the wrong way.

They ambush staffers, monopolize their time, and shove multiple-page statements in their hands.

They act is if their issue is the most important one in the whole world.

Well, it may be to them. But to lawmakers and staff, it's merely one of many.

You are more likely to get results if you lobby this way.

December 21, 2016: Working the room

It's not a natural activity for lots of people, but it often needs to be done.

Here are some suggestions on how to do it without being afraid.

NOTE: Trying to meet one person or one type of person in a room is a lot easier than trying to meet everybody in the room.

December 14, 2016: Political advice

Donald Trump did not win a political campaign.

He successfully executed a business plan to acquire the most valuable company on the planet, and he is now going to become CEO of the government of the United States of America.

We knew from the beginning that political dynamics would be different this time around.

If your organization needs to interact with the federal government, keep in mind that it will be led by a conservative businessman who makes situational decisions and keeps his adversaries off balance by not letting them know what he is thinking.

He is not beholden to the political party that nominated him. In fact, many of its leaders publicly repudiated him and they'll now have to re-think their own action strategies.

Nor is he wedded to party platforms or ideological agendas. He will do what he wants to do.

Such things as public opinion and congressional approval will merely be factors that may, or may not, influence his decision-making.

So, advocate for your cause, but remember you are negotiating a business deal when you do that. Political strategies that worked for you before may not work anymore.

December 07, 2016: Talking to Congress

Here are additional tips for effectively communicating with members of Congress.

November 09, 2016: Election lesson

The 2016 presidential election is likely to be dissected every which way by pundits for a very long time.

How did both political parties fail to recognize the latent power of protest? Why did comments that appeared crude to some, seem honest to others? What role did gender play? Were voters repudiating the Obama Administration, challenging the "establishment," or simply choosing a candidate? Did the electoral map reflect only a minor shift from the norm?

Lessons for associations:

Do not stubbornly cling to organizational tradition and accepted etiquette. Don't dismiss critics as "outsiders" or "renegades." Incorporate dissent in your decision-making process. Accept change.

Strive for good decisions, not for unanimity. And don't always try to preserve the established way of conducting association business.

November 08, 2016: Election Day

I always vote. Always.

I cast a ballot today in every contested race, from President down to Water Reclamation District. The choices were all easy and they were all important.

I'll view election returns tonight, then hunker down to work tomorrow.

Over and done.

May 20, 2016: What are they thinking?

When planning an action that puts you at odds with another organization or a group of individuals, think from their point of view and try to anticipate how they will advance their cause.

Don't assume your position is morally superior to theirs or that you are right and they are wrong.

Many people are likely to think differently than you, may adopt policy positions you find abhorrent, and will support causes you believe are absolutely evil.

You are more likely to achieve success if you understand the opposition, develop arguments to counter their claims, and can devise a strategy that will weaken their position in the eyes of whatever audiences matter in that situation.

April 22, 2016: Association advocacy

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is teaching its members how to become more effective advocates for the profession.

I hope their training includes a strong dose of reality and pragmatism.

For example, when testifying for or against a bill in a state legislative committee hearing, you should know the outcome of the committee vote before you even testify, because you should have already lobbied each individual on the committee. The hearing is merely your opportunity to state your views for the record and to score public relations points.

You should already have spoken with the Governor's office and with the department that will be responsible for dealing with the legislation, know where they stand on the bill, and adjust your advocacy strategy accordingly.

Often, the only legislators listening to your testimony will be your supporters, so they can advocate for your position, and your opponents, so they can shoot you down. Other committee members may be checking their email, returning phone calls, surfing the web on their smartphones, or even napping.

They'll cast votes in accordance with the views of their party or faction, or they may follow a colleague's recommendation. Your testimony will often have little, if any, impact on their votes.

So dump the civics lessons you were taught in school and adhere to the political culture of the legislative forum in which you are seeking a victory.
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