An Executive Director's point of view


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.

March 27, 2016: Legislative surprises

Are legislators not reading bills thoroughly? Are they placing too much trust in colleagues?

Are interest groups not always aware of the content or impact of legislation that affects their audiences?

Yes. That and more. Here's what's happening.
Here are some suggestions about how to stay in touch with members of Congress, even when you are not advocating for or against a particular piece of legislation.

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.

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