An Executive Director's point of view

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 were 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.

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.
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