An Executive Director's point of view

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.

December 06, 2012: Take the long view

"When it comes to advocacy, results are not always immediate and we shouldn't under-estimate the value in cultivating relationships," advised an association executive involved in the legislative process.

Successful advocacy is not always about winning today. It's also about laying the groundwork for future victories by establishing relationships that may not bear fruit for some time.

Associations often find that members who understand that may be more patient (and loyal), more likely to pay attention to the process and participate in it, be even more gratified when victory is achieved, and elated when the forces that created that victory continue to grow and eventually become the norm.

November 11, 2012: Election reflections

A lot of attention has been given association executives who backed Mitt Romney for President. Those folks promoted a business agenda that was supported by most members of their groups.

But not all associations represent businesses. Many association execs, and even more association employees, voted for President Obama, support Obamacare, and promote progressive legislative initiatives. The business agenda is not their agenda.

For those in our profession who do support a business agenda, here are three suggestions:

1. Embrace business owners who are Democrats.

A growing segment of the business community is comprised of progressive entrepreneurs who seek to fulfill their social goals through business ventures. They want to make the world a better place without lying to people, misleading them, or hurting anybody. And they want to earn a living at it. They are affected by business issues and can advocate for those within a forum to which the business community does not always have access.

2. Narrow the gap between business goals and the public perception of business.

Most Americans do not own businesses, do not care about the welfare of businesses, and do not support the business agenda. They often view business leaders as heartless, highly-compensated profiteers, who pay low wages, deny benefits, and lay off workers to make more money.

3. Reclaim the Republican Party from the extremists who have taken it over in many states.

A business agenda that is espoused by candidates who justify rape, forcibly divide immigrant families, and cut health care and other benefits to working people and poor people, is not an agenda that will be considered by the majority of American voters.

The business community, and the associations that represent them, need to talk about issues that people care about.
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