An Executive Director's point of view


January 28, 2016: The politics of celebrity

As your association attempts to navigate the political waters of presidential politics and figure out how best to deal with a future chief executive, keep in mind that the political customs of yesterday are not the customs of today.

Donald Trump, for example, is a celebrity, not a politician. He is not an outsider - not at all. And many candidates before him, both successful and unsuccessful, have attempted to exploit the anger of voters, just as he is doing.

But his public persona took shape in a world of media, entertainment, and business notoriety, not in the world of politics.

So when he utters comments that are idiotic, offensive, misleading, or even untrue, he is viewed as a celebrity, not as a politician, and escapes unscathed from situations that might topple other presidential aspirants.

The tactics you may have used in the past to advocate for, or relate to, candidates are going to be very different this time around.

December 20, 2015: Coalition building

When building a coalition of groups in support of legislation or other initiatives, identify every group that may have a reason to support your issue, even if its reason is unrelated to yours.

One organization advocating for improved health care standards won the support of the state Attorney General, whose position on the issue was expected to help his upcoming campaign for Governor; the Speaker of the State House, a party rival who wanted to steal some thunder from the AG and did not want him to become Governor; one of three industry groups that felt its members were treated less fairly than their competitors and wanted to "get even;" a union that sought to organize facility employees; a professional association whose members were often blamed for acts ordered by management; as well as other groups that truly favored the proposed improvements.

The larger and broader your coalition, the more likely you are to win. So, recruit groups that can help you win, even if their reasons for winning are different than yours.
Here are some tips from people who work in Congress.

Remember that a meeting may only last 15 minutes, so be focused and quick. And a printed leave-behind should be simple and short. Otherwise, it won't be read.

One more thing. When seeking support for your issue, tell how the member of Congress will benefit by voting a certain way, not how you or your organization will benefit.

And recognize that your meeting is only one part of an effort to gain support. Representatives are subject to a variety of influences, and the subject matter of the bill may not even be one of them.

June 29, 2014: Biased question

The results of a recent (Republican-sponsored) poll are being used to suggest that Democrats could lose control of the U.S. Senate following the 2014 elections.

But that interpretation is based on a question asking respondents if they would prefer a Senate controlled by Democrats to help pass President Obama's agenda or Republicans to act as a check and balance.

Well, voters choose candidates for a whole lot of reasons besides support or opposition to the President.

So, if you are looking for information to help plan future association activities that are impacted by electoral results, look for a different poll.

March 12, 2014: More lobbying tips

The majority of bills that come before legislators are of little or no interest to most people.

While increasing continuing education requirements from 25 hours to 30 hours per year, for example, may be very important to people in a particular profession, it is not deemed at all important by most anybody else.

When your association members lobby, they are seen as advocating a private interest. When the general public lobbies, they are seen as advocating a public interest.

So, if you think your legislative initiatives will impact people outside of your profession, you need to mobilize them and have them contact legislators.

Adding a public interest dimension to your efforts will broaden your base of support and may increase the likelihood of success.

March 06, 2014: It's not about the content

Here's how I helped defeat a bill that had passed unanimously in one chamber of the state legislature:

The lobbyist for my adversary failed to tell the sponsor that a number of groups were opposed to his bill. Several of us surprised that legislator in the hallway one day and asked him why he was sponsoring such an awful bill.

He was embarrassed - and angry that he had been put in the position of being a bad guy.

Legislators don't like to be on the wrong side of an issue. If two organizations they respect (or seek support from) take different positions on a matter, they often suggest the combatants work out a deal, and the legislator then sponsors the agreed upon proposal.

Legislators look for win-win situations. They want to make two friends, not one friend and one enemy.

So, when the bill passed one chamber and was called for a vote in the other, several committee members who would normally have voted for it, didn't - and it fell short of the votes needed to pass.

The content of the bill was irrelevant. Those legislators simply wanted to punish the lobbyist for blindsiding their colleague.

When crafting your legislative strategy, remember that the content of a bill often - very often - is irrelevant. What's more important is who supports or opposes the bill, how it impacts each party or faction's tactical efforts, and how the proponents and opponents are viewed by legislators.

February 03, 2014: Switching sides

That's what you are doing when you leave an association job to work in government.

The administration you are now a part of may be supportive of your industry and may have worked closely with it in the past.

But you are no longer the voice of the industry to government. You are now the voice of government to the industry.

Your job is to do what's best for the government, not what's best for the industry.

And you are the person the government may tap to mollify the industry and get it to conform to what the government wants.

Just be sure you understand that when you make the switch.
Advocacy is fraught with conflict. Associations, legislators, administrators, and others may hold contrary positions on policy issues and are often loathe to compromise. They firmly believe in the correctness of their positions and are prepared to fight for those beliefs.

Achieving consensus is not the goal of advocacy. Winning is the goal - persuading decision-makers to choose your organization's position over others.

Getting along with competitors - and allowing everybody to feel good about the process - may not even be a consideration.

So, be sure that the employees, contractors, and volunteers who conduct your advocacy efforts are comfortable with that attitude. They need to be concerned with winning, not with making friends.

Making friends may be a part of the strategy, but winning is the goal.

March 01, 2013: Lincoln County

Chicagoans who run for statewide elective office in Illinois - The Land of Lincoln - are sometimes asked by downstaters (folks who live outside the Chicago metropolitan area) if they'll campaign in every county in the state.

"Yes," they frequently proclaim.

Then they're asked if they'll campaign in Lincoln County.

"Yes," they once again affirm.

There are 102 counties in Illinois, but none of them are named Lincoln.

February 18, 2013: Not being a hog

At a recent press conference, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn stepped aside and let his public relations partner (a local university) get most of the attention. He felt that he should not grab credit for an initiative they were announcing together.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's staff was dumbfounded. The Mayor ALWAYS grabs the credit (in a tactful way, of course). That's what elected officials do.

Quinn's behavior was very much appreciated by those who are often elbowed out of the limelight.
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