Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category

Election and PAC Roles in Advocacy Efforts

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 by Brittany

Election Activities

What is it?

In some cases, it may be appropriate to engage members of the advocacy network in election-related activities.  Note, however, the restrictions on election-related activity discussed in Chapter 2.  Nonprofits organized under certain IRS “501” designations, in particular, may not engage in partisan election activity, such as endorsing a particular candidate for office.  Individual states and localities may also have restrictions of which advocate leaders should be aware.

Why is it useful?

Engaging advocates in election-related activities serves a number of purposes, including:

  • Raising the profile of an organization’s issue, both during the campaign and long after
  • Offering a new and often invigorating way for advocates to get involved in the policymaking process
  • Enhancing an organization’s access and reach in the legislature 

When should it be used?

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election every two years and U.S. Senators must stand for election every six.  In addition, most states and localities have elections for various state and local offices at least every other year.  Some localities have elections every year for both candidates as well as to address ballot questions, such as sales tax or funding initiatives.  Any election offers an opportunity to engage advocates, to the extent allowed by law.  Advocate leaders should consider, though, which level of government the organization hopes to build relationships with and choose the election cycle for participation carefully.

PAC / Fundraising Efforts

What is it?

As noted in Chapter 1, advocacy efforts should be coordinated in tandem with other government relations activities, include political action committees (PACs).  In fact, organizations will generally find a great deal of overlap between the most active and committed members of their advocacy network and the most consistent donors to their political action committees.  This section provides a few details on PACs and how they can be successfully integrated into an overall advocacy network plan.

Organizations form Generic Cialis PACs to finance political education and to make contributions toward the election or defeat of candidates.  They can contribute up to $5,000 per cycle per election to a candidate’s committee and $15,000 to national political parties.  They may receive up to $5,000 from individuals. 

Most organizations will establish a connected PAC that can solicit contributions only from members.  More information can be found on the FEC site at www.fec.gov.  Key materials on this site include:

Political action committees can also be formed at the state level.  Rules for establishing state PACs vary from state to state.  Organizations should look to their state’s Board of Elections for more information.

Why is it useful?

Overall, political action committees allow organizations to support the election of candidates who support their issues.  Some advocate leaders suggest that PAC contributions give advocates and government relations staff better access to policymakers, in that advocates will have the opportunity to attend fundraising events and be seen as supportive of the candidate.  

Political action committees can also enhance an organization’s advocacy activities and vice versa.  By coordinating existing programs or forming a new PAC to complement an advocacy network, organizations can reduce duplication, reach out in a more focused, targeted manner to politically active network members and possibly reduce overhead and cost.

When should it be used?

Any organization that already has a PAC should look for opportunities to, at a minimum, coordinate and possibly merge activities.  Organizations with advocacy networks but no PAC should determine whether a PAC would assist in meeting legislative and policy goals.

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Contacting Members of Congress? You’re Not the Only One.

Friday, October 14th, 2011 by Vbhotla

A new Congressional Management Foundation report entitled “Communicating with Congress How Citizen Advocacy is Changing Mail Operations on Capitol Hill“ found that constituents are contacting their Congressmen far more frequently than they were 10 years ago: Senate offices reported a 548 percent increase in mail volume since 2002 (including one office that experienced a 1,422 percent jump), and representatives in the House received 158 percent more mail.  Despite receiving overwhelming amounts of constituent mail, 90 percent of congressional staff surveyed still say that constituent communications remains a “high priority.”

Offices that embrace technology find responding to constituent communication much easier than those that don’t, but the report found that in many cases, “‘old school’ habits on Capitol Hill are inhibiting the potential for Congress and citizens to have a more robust, active and meaningful relationship using online technologies.”  In the past, many offices refrained from sending emails, resorting to phone calls and snail mail instead because they were afraid their messages would be altered.  Even still, 86 percent of congressional offices are answering email messages with emails, a rise from 37 percent in 2005.

However, if you’re feeling like an office isn’t getting much done, or is taking forever to respond to your scheduling request, it’s because staff is also spending an increasing amount of time sifting through the influx of constituent mail.  The survey found that on average, staff spend 58 percent of their time on constituent communications, and 46 percent say they have had to shift resources to manage the increased mail volume.  Response time seems not to be dependent on the request: 42 percent of staff surveyed say it takes more than three weeks to draft and approve a response to an issue that previously has not be raised, and 41 percent say they need “more than a week to respond to a constituent email even if a prepared text response has been drafted and approved.”  All of this with the same resources; Congress has not increased office staff sizes since 1979.  In 2009, Congress debate a high number of high profile issues, and as a result, offices also experienced the greatest jump in constituent communications that year.

Senior managers in congressional largely believe that the biggest challenge they face as it pertains to responding to constituent mail is mail volume (35 percent), but 41 percent of “mail staffers” state “the review and approval process” is the mostly responsible for the delay.

Dont Let Your Advocates be Scared Motivate Them!

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by Brittany

Depending upon the issue and the nature of the network, advocate leaders may occasionally find themselves needing to either encourage more people to actively participate in advocacy efforts or encourage more quality communications with the target audience.  Outlined below are a few of the key barriers to participation, options for overcoming those barriers and ideas for recognizing advocates’ efforts.

Barriers to Participation

Advocates often cite one of the following reasons to explain why they might be unwilling or unable to participate in efforts to make policy change:

  • Lack of time
  • A feeling that their participation doesn’t matter
  • A feeling that the organization should do the lobbying, not them
  • Unsure what to do / intimidated
  • Advocate fatigue / over-activation
  • Lack of progress
  • Disagreement over policy direction

Overcoming Barriers

  • Quick and Easy Activities: Advocate leaders should look for ways to draw potential advocates in to the network through some quick and easy activities.  These might include sending an e-mail to a legislator through an action alert site, signing a petition, responding to a poll or survey or sending a postcard.  This might be viewed as the “crawl before walking” approach.  Once advocates become familiar with and comfortable with these simple activities, advocate leaders can work to encourage these individuals to engage in more substantive and effective communication strategies.
  • Cultivating the Active:  It’s not the number of communications that have an impact on policy outcomes, it’s the quality. Hence, it may make sense for advocate leaders to focus more attention on the powerful 5 to 20 percent of the network willing and eager to take substantive action, without, of course, ignoring the rest of the network.
  • Training:  The following components of a training program will help address some of the more common barriers to participation: why their voice matters, role in the GR campaign, long-term focus, and how to advocate. 
  • Engaging Champions:  Legislative or regulatory champions of an organization’s issues can help deliver the message to advocates that their voice matters.  In some cases, advocates may be more apt to believe a legislator than an organization’s government relations staff.  Advocate leaders should consider asking policy champions to speak at events or make public statements about the importance of citizen advocates to the policymaking process.
  • Strategic Activation:  Advocate fatigue can be managed, in part, by being as strategic and focused as possible when activating the network.  Organizations that frequently issue high-priority action alerts, particularly when those alerts aren’t warranted, may find their advocates becoming immune to their requests – and unwilling to take action when truly needed.
  • Change the Definition of Victory:  In developing advocacy plans, advocate leaders should identify internal goals that can be achieved regardless of external events.  These might include targets for numbers of advocates in the network or developing a pilot program for coordinating a few site visits during a recess.  These aspects of the campaign may be more within the control of the organization than, for example, whether a bill moves forward to the hearing stage or not.
  • Managing Set-backs:  How an organization manages the inevitable set-backs associated with any advocacy effort can make or break their future success.  Advocate leaders should look to be as up-front as possible about set-backs, while identifying future plans of action.
  • Setting the Policy Agenda:   Organizations that set their policy agenda in concert with the advocacy network will likely have fewer disagreements with members about policy direction than those that adopt a more hierarchical approach.  Before asking advocates to communicate with policymakers on a critical issue, it is imperative to ascertain that most members of the network are in agreement on the overall message.
  • Agreeing to Disagree:  In some cases, organizations may need to take controversial positions that may be unpopular with some percentage of their members.  Advocate leaders should identify these potential disagreements as soon as possible and be prepared to address questions about the decisions made by the organization.

 

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Back to School Advocacy Review

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 by Brittany

What is Advocacy?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, advocacy is: “the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support.”

Under this definition, there are many types of advocacy, including:

  • Legal Advocacy:  Arguing on behalf of a client in the legal environment
  • Child Advocacy:  Making the case for children in a child-oriented venue, such as a school or in the context of child protective services
  • Patient Advocacy:  Helping individuals navigate through the increasing complex medical arena and safeguarding their rights
  • Casework / Social Welfare Advocacy:  Working with low-income or otherwise disadvantaged individuals to be sure they have the services they need
  • Corporate Advocacy:  Efforts by corporations to promote a specific cause or idea for the benefit of the general public (also related to the idea of “Corporate Social Responsibility”)

In each of these circumstances, one person or a group of people pleads or argues in favor of a particular cause, idea, or individual.  The difference between these types of advocacy candid pokies and advocacy in the policy arena are matters of topic, scale, and audience.

Advocacy in the policy arena can be defined along the following lines:

  • Topic:  Improvements to public policy or funding for public programs at the local, state or federal level
  • Scale:  Focused on benefits for a group of people as opposed to an individual
  • Audience:  Primarily targeted at policy makers at the local, state or federal level.  Secondary targets may include opinion leaders, business interests and citizens in an effort to elicit change with relevant policy-makers.

In addition, the use of the term advocacy refers specifically to advocacy that is done by non-professionals as opposed to the “direct lobbying” done by government relations professionals across the country.  A fourth area of differentiation, therefore, would be:

  • Advocate:  An individual, such as an association member, company employee or citizen, who pleads the public policy case to a policy maker, often in concert with a larger organization.

 

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Recess District Lobby Days, Site Visits, Townhalls

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 by Brittany

It’s recess time for Congress, but while “recess” sounds like fun and games, these times are district work periods for congressional members. Congress will be in recess for the month of August, and advocates can be involved in several types of activities to connect with their elected officials while they are home.

District-Based Lobby Days / Weeks

What is it?

Under this approach, advocate leaders work with advocates to coordinate meetings with policymakers in their own district offices.  An organization might, for example, ask members of the advocate network to set up meetings with relevant members of the U.S. House when those members are in their legislative district during a district work period.

Why is it useful?

District lobby day / week events can be a great way to connect advocate network members with their policymakers, but without extensive travel expenses.  Meeting with policymakers while they are home also further strengthens the message about the impact of state or federal level policy issues on the home district. 

When should it be used?

As with traditional lobby days, any organization with a core of committed advocates can benefit from coordinating a district lobby event, either individually or in concert with a coalition partner.  Lobbying events are most successful, however, when the organization has a specific policy agenda and core ask.  Advocate leaders should work to coordinate the timing of the event with key legislative initiatives as well as other advocacy activities.  For example, holding a district lobbying event during the work period directly after a national lobby day can serve to reinforce messages that were delivered in conjunction with the national event.

Site Visits

What is it?

A “site visit” is an in-person visit by a policymaker or member of his or her staff to facilities, groups and individuals in their district or state.  These might include visits to:

  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Business headquarter offices to meet with key personnel
  • Hospitals, school, libraries, recreation centers or other community service providers
  • Local chapter meetings of interest groups
  • Special events held by local groups

In essence, a site visit occurs whenever a policymaker or staff person goes to see something or meet someone in the district.  These are different from district lobby events only in that the policymaker generally goes to see the advocate, as opposed to the other way around.

Why is it useful?

These visits help policymakers connect what sometimes seem like esoteric policy issues to the needs and concerns of individuals in their districts or states.  When conducted properly, site visits help “bring the issue alive” for the policymaker.

When should it be used?

Any organization with a core of committed advocates can benefit from coordinating some type of site visit program.  Those organizations with a network that already has some experience with other advocacy techniques, such as lobby days or written campaigns, may have more success.  This is because arranging a site visit often takes a bit more time and commitment on the part of the advocate.

Townhall Meetings

What is it?

Policymakers often arrange what are called “townhall” or “community” meetings to hear from people in their districts and states.  They generally occur when the legislators are at home, such as during the district work periods of the U.S. Congress, although “telephone townhalls” (see notes below) are gaining in popularity.  The meetings may be scheduled to address specific topics, such as economic issues or a local concern, or they may simply be arranged as general “listening sessions.”

Why is it useful?

Townhall or community meetings are generally pretty sparsely attended.  Those advocates who do attend can often get some one-on-one face time with both the policymaker and key staff people.  This face-to-face connection serves to build a strong relationship with the policymaker and delivers the message that the advocate really cares about the issues.  Attending a townhall meeting is a relatively easy way for an advocate to raise the profile of an issue and make the connections necessary to achieve change.

When should it be used?

Any organization with a core of committed advocates can benefit from coordinating some type of townhall attendance program.  The commitment on the part of the advocate can range from simply attending (either in-person or through a telephone event), to connecting briefly with the policymaker and staff before or after the event, to raising an issue publicly.  It should be noted, however, that a public townhall meeting may not be the best venue to raise new or controversial issues.  Advocate leaders should provide detailed instructions and talking points to ensure that messages are delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible.  In some cases, this may mean talking directly to the staff as opposed to raising the issue with others.

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Summer Camp Training Advocates

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 by Brittany

When training advocates, it is important to bear in mind that these individuals do not need the same level of policy or process expertise as a professional lobbyist.  In most cases, advocates will not be determining strategy, negotiating delicate matters of legislative language or counting votes.  As such, much of the basic information about “how a bill becomes a law” or the section-by-section ins-and-outs of a particular policy issue will be of little relevance.  Yet, many advocacy training courses focus on legislative process and procedure as a means to introduce advocates to government.  Unfortunately, this approach sometimes leaves advocates feeling overwhelmed and under-motivated.

To avoid this situation, advocate leaders should focus on the following key elements in their training curriculum and avoid long discussions about bicameralism, the subcommittee process or how the appropriation level of Program X has changed over the last 20 years.  These more minute details of legislative process and policy can certainly be addressed in advanced courses for those advocates interested in more information, but should not form the core of a basic course.

  • Why citizen voices matter:  Many individuals simply do not believe that their voice matters, in part because they do not fully recognize why an elected official or staff person might pay more attention to them than to anyone else.  Citizen advocates need to understand that most elected officials and their staff are eager and excited to meet with real, live constituents and will respond more readily to their requests than those of non-constituents.
  • A corollary – what influences elected officials:  Most participants in a training session will immediately answer this question with one word: “money.”  Advocate leaders should make clear that policymakers are influenced by a variety of factors, including their own principles and passions, their friends, family and staff, their play pokies free online party leadership and, most important, their constituents.
  • The importance of asking for something specific:  Having a vague or even positive conversation is ultimately far less useful than asking a policymaker to take a specific action, whether it is to support a piece of legislation or visit a facility in the legislator’s district.  Advocate leaders should help participants understand and practice the key policy asks as well as other “easier” asks (such as site visits and public statements) that will both capture a policymaker’s interest and support.
  • Understanding the audience and framing the message:  Advocates should have both a macro- and micro-level understanding of the audience with whom they are communicating.
  • Effective messages from advocates:  Advocates should recognize that their job is to make sometimes esoteric policy issues real for the policymaker.  They can achieve this goal by telling a personal story.  Hence, any advocacy training session should include opportunities for participants to develop their own compelling stories.
  • The importance of following up:  Most advocates do not follow-up on their communications with policymakers — and then wonder why their representatives don’t do what they were asked to do.  Advocate leaders should impress upon network members the context in which decisions are made in the legislature, pointing out that initial requests for action may not be followed up on.
  • Working with staff:  Most state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, along with their related executive branch agencies, utilize staff people to assist policymakers.  Advocates should understand that staff people are critical to the process of effective policymaking.  In too many cases, advocates are disappointed to meet or work with “just the staff.”  Instead, staff should be viewed as critical components of the policymaking process.

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Grassroots Goes Social

Monday, June 13th, 2011 by Brittany

Ignore at Your Own Risk:
How Social Media is Becoming a Driving Force in Grassroots Lobbying
A webinar on June 23 from 2:00-3:30 EST 

Join us for a 90 minute interactive webinar on grassroots lobbying that will teach how all of the newest technological tools can help advance your message.

Our grassroots advocacy experts, Alan Rosenblatt of the Center for American Politics and Amy Showalter from the Showalter Group will set out a step-by-step plan for launching your online grassroots strategy to help you effectively engage your audience and promote a sense of community while effecting real change in Congress.

Discuss best practices for online strategies and employing real-time tactics and answer these three fundamental questions BEFORE you go social!

  1. WHY exactly should you go online
  2. WHAT is your organization trying to accomplish
  3. HOW can you leverage the various platforms for the most benefit 

Register now In addition to learning the myriad of options and how-to’s for social media engagement, you will learn how to maximize your online presence by increasing online trust, and using that trust to move your online advocates offline. The rules of trust in digital discussions aren’t much different than in-person networking, but the tools have changed.

In just 90 minutes you’ll find out:

  • How to promote a truly interactive online community  
  • How to leverage a Congress member’s online presence as a virtual office when getting through to the official offices
  • What is meant by the statement “Message control is dead.”
  • Three elements of face-to-face credibility and how to engage audiences online
  • Two actions that will hurt your online credibility
  • Five mistakes that can undermine your web site’s integrity (and how to avoid them)
  • How to gauge which online advocates have offline potential
  • The psychological tools that motivate volunteers to offline interaction
  • The ideal offline structure for maximum volunteer engagement and ownership   

Webinar Details
June 23, 2011: 2:00-3:30 EST
Have multiple staff members listen in on the same line!
Register now

K.I.T!: Communication Techniques with Advocates

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 by Brittany

Just like in high school when we encouraged our friends to “K.I.T.” (“keep in touch”) with us during the summer months when signing yearbooks, organizations should be engaged in keeping in touch with their advocates on a year-round basis. However, there is a strategic element to the types of messages that are sent out to particular advocates…

Advocate leaders will need to communicate with a variety of audiences within the advocate network, including:

  • Existing or potential grassroots network members
  • Existing or potential grasstops network members
  • Existing or potential coalition members

Within these broad categories, an understanding of the following details about advocates will be essential to effective communications.

  • State / District of residency or work:  In order to facilitate effective advocate actions based on constituency, advocate leaders must be able to match members of the advocate network with their relevant policymakers. This includes, where possible, both residency connections as well as corporate connections.
  • Connections to legislators:  In addition, the work done in early network development stages to identify “grasstops”-style connections (i.e., that an advocate has a friendship or business relationship with an elected official) will be helpful in better targeting messages to relevant advocates.
  • Expertise / anecdotal connections to issues:  Advocate leaders should also be able to identify quickly and easily those advocates with a compelling story to tell and/or those with a strong expertise in the issues.  This information can be used to identify potential grasstops advocates and/or advocates that can testify in front of committees or help draft responses to regulatory rulemakings.

The effectiveness of the communications can be further improved by segmenting the audience based on the following measures:

  • Level of interest / involvement in the advocacy effort:  Advocates that are more active may be more willing to receive multiple communications.
  • Topics of interest:  If an organization manages a wide range of policy issues, it may be appropriate to ask advocates what topics they are most interested in hearing about.

In short, different audiences may receive different types of communications (for example, potential members of the network will receive recruitment communications whereas existing members will not).  In addition, certain strategies may work with one type of audience, but not another (for example, grasstops members may be far more receptive to a “pull” approach, such as a social network).  Having a strong understanding of the audience will enhance the advocate leader’s success in communicating messages.

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Spring Forward into Lobby Days

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011 by Brittany

Lobby days are a good way to connect with elected officials and their staff at their offices in Washington, D.C., or at the state capital. Although advocates are ultimately responsible for making those connections, a lot of planning and effort must be undertaken by the organization hosting the lobby day – as well as the advocates!

What are they?

For purposes of this manual, the term “lobby day” is used to refer to any effort to connect advocates with policymakers through meetings, either physically or virtually, on a given day or week.  Some organizations might refer to these events as “advocacy days,” “fly-ins” or “Capitol Hill days.” Members of the legislative branch are usually the target audience for these events, although some organizations arrange meetings with regulators and other members of the executive branch, such as staff of the governor’s office.

Why is it useful?

Recent reports suggest that in-person meetings from constituents are one of the most effective ways to influence elected officials.

When should it be used?

Any organization with a core of committed advocates can benefit from coordinating a lobby day event, either individually or in concert with a coalition partner.  Lobbying events are most successful, however, when the organization has a specific policy agenda and core ask. 

Asking advocates to get involved

Asking advocates to participate in a lobby day effort Viagra generally involves more than simply sending out an action alert and hoping people respond, particularly for those situations where advocates will be investing their own time and money.  Options for marketing the event include:

  • Conference marketing materials, including brochures, mailers and web site information.  Marketing materials should include links to online and hard copy registration materials
  • Press releases about the event to industry publications
  • Outreach through coalitions
  • Articles / columns in the organization’s own publications
  • Web 2.0 outreach techniques, such as setting up a Facebook or MySpace page for the event

Key points to consider in developing the materials:

  • Outline the value of direct constituent communications in influencing the policymaking process.  Advocates need to understand why their direct participation is critical to policy success.
  • Be sure that advocates know what they are agreeing to do when registering for the event.  Unless advocate leaders are very specific about what the event entails, some advocates may not understand that they will be meeting individually or in small groups with their policymakers.
  • Ensure that the registration form captures all relevant information, including the address to be used for matching advocates with policymakers and cell phone numbers.
  • Establish an early bird deadline that allows those scheduling the meetings enough time to initiate meeting requests and coordinate schedules.

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Tax Issues in Advocacy

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 by Brittany

Differences Between Lobbying and Advocacy

 There is much confusion in the government relations community about the differences between “advocacy” and “lobbying.”  This is in part because the terms are used one way in the legal and tax context by the IRS (as applied to non-profit organizations) and another in the practical development of advocacy networks.  Following is an overview of these differences:

 2.2.1. Legal / Tax Differences

  •  “Advocacy” is often seen as arguing for a cause without referring to a specific piece of legislation.  This definition is important to any organization structured as a private foundation because they are, for all intents and purposes, restricted from direct lobbying but may undertake “policy education” or “advocacy.”
  • “Grassroots Lobbying” is defined by the I.R.S. more specifically as encompassing the activities that an organization undertakes to ask the public (not members) to support or oppose legislation. 
  • “Lobbying” or “Direct Lobbying” is defined by the I.R.S. as encompassing the activities that an organization undertakes to communicate its position on legislative proposals directly to elected and executive branch officials and staff.  This includes communications an organization sends to its own members asking them to communicate with an elected official about legislation.

Nonprofits are limited in both the amount of grassroots lobbying and direct lobbying they may carry out and still maintain their exempt status.  The rather vague term “substantial” (as in whether an organization’s lobbying work constitutes a “substantial” part of its activities) has led many organizations to seek further clarification. 

The 1976 Lobbying Law provided this clarification.  Non-profits that elect to come under this law (by filing a Section 501 h form) have Tramadol Online very specific monetary limits on their lobbying-related expenditures, as follows:

1976 Lobbying Law Limits

Annual Expenditures Direct Lobbying Ceiling Grassroots Lobbying Ceiling
Up to $500,000 20% of expenditures 25% of the direct lobbying costs
$500,001 to $1 million $100,000 + 15% over $500K $25,000 + 3.75% over $500K
$1 million to $1.5 million $175,000 + 10% over $1million $43,750 + 2.5% over $1 million
$1.5 million to $17 million $225,000 + 5% over $1.5 million $56,250 + 1.25% over $1.5 million
Over $17 million $1 million $250,000

Note that these limits are based on actual monetary expenditures.  The advocacy activities of volunteers do not count toward these expenditures, although any funds the organization spends to solicit action would.

In Practice Definitions

Standard government relations practice defines these terms in slightly different ways.  These are the definitions that will be utilized in this manual:

  • Advocacy:  The act of pleading or arguing for a cause, or more specifically for or against a piece of legislation, through the use of grassroots, grasstops or coalition networks.  These networks may be comprised of members of the organization itself or the general public.
  • Lobbying:  Communications with elected officials and others conducted on behalf of an organization by professional staff or directors of the organization.

Note, however, that because the question of what constitutes lobbying (whether direct or grassroots) is so important to the functioning of nonprofit organizations, care is taken throughout this manual to highlight when an organization needs to be aware of the potential tax ramifications of a particular activity or advocacy network structure.

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Successful Advocacy is Not Just about Luck Its Also About Strategy

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 by Brittany

In identifying the issues that the organization will address, successful advocate leaders must manage both the expectations and interests of their advocates as well as the agendas of policymakers.  As a result, they must be prepared to establish both proactive and reactive policy agendas.

  • Proactive agendas are those designed to further the legislative, regulatory or other policy interests of the organization.  They are usually comprised of specific initiatives the organization wishes to advance, such as legislation or a change to regulatory rules. 
  • Reactive agendas are developed in response to the initiatives put forth by policymakers or others.

Almost all policy agendas will have both proactive and reactive elements.  Proactive elements are often the easiest to develop, in that organization leaders will hopefully have a good sense of the policy changes necessary to benefit their stakeholders.  Difficulties with proactive agendas may arise when there are competing priorities or stakeholders have unrealistic expectations.

The formation of reactive agendas can prove more difficult. This is in large part because it is often difficult to know what a policymaking body is planning.  Many organizations with well-thought-out proactive agendas find themselves scrambling to manage policy changes proposed from an external source.  To avoid surprises and last-minute policy panic, it is essential to consider what issues your organization might need to address in a reactive manner from the outset.

Options for identifying potential reactive agenda items include:

  • Informal discussions with key legislative and regulatory champions
  • Ongoing review of relevant periodicals, newspapers and other publications
  • Discussions with appropriate state and national associations and interest groups
  • Analysis of legislative and regulatory history, including existing laws up for reauthorization and review
  • Intelligence from well-situated stakeholders

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

NFL Fight Presses On

Friday, February 25th, 2011 by Vbhotla

In addition to the AFL-CIO, several Indiana state Delegates have gotten involved in the labor fight between the league and its players union.  The AP reports that both of Indiana’s senators and all nine of its representatives have penned a letter to both Roger Goddell and players union president DeMaurice Smith indicating their concern that “a failure to complete a new agreement could lead to a work stoppage affecting the upcoming 2011 NFL season and Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis,” which, according to a Ball State University study, could deprive the state of an estimated $365 million in revenue.

Representatives from the interest of tax payers, NFL fans and the impact a lockout could have overall.

While Congress has steered clear of intervening thus far, some argue that the millions in subsidies the NFL receives give Congress good reason to get involved.  But the league expends an extraordinary amount of effort to ensure its interests are recognized on the Hill, spending $2.5 million last cycle alone.  And a lot of credit is due to Jeff Miller, the league’s chief lobbyist, for his success in this endeavor.  Miller has said that he will not seek congressional interference on a collective bargaining agreement, believing that the parties should be more than capable of reaching a suitable agreement among themselves.

Approaching Potential Coalition Partners

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011 by Brittany

Approaching coalition partners is often as easy as simply asking the leader of a group to join your effort.  Answers to the following questions will help the advocate leader in developing a plan:

  • Who are the easiest groups to get?  If the goal is to build a critical mass early, contact the most gettable groups first.
  • Are there groups that will help you leverage participation by other groups?  If so, consider expending some effort to get these “leading” groups.  Once they have agreed to join, others will come much easier.
  • Are there groups that might serve to limit participation by others?  If this is the case, carefully consider whether they should be approached at all.  Sometimes coalitions are not successful because the core set of groups leaves a less than stellar impression.  Conversely, groups that might be considered less than ideal may need to be included for political and/or policy reasons.  In these cases, it may make sense to try to get them on board later rather than sooner.
  • Who is the best person to approach the potential coalition partner?   A member of the organization’s advocate network who serves as a board member, donor or friend of one of the groups that the organization plans to approach may be ideally suited to make the initial contact.  This practice serves two purposes: 1) it engages a member of the advocate network in the policy work of the organization; and, 2) it enhances the credibility of your message with the receiving group.
  • What materials will be available to the groups being asked to join the coalition?  At a minimum, a one pager outlining the mission, goals and basic strategies should be provided.  The one pager should also include details on what might be expected of coalition partners.

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

New Year – New Advocacy Approach?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 by Brittany

Unfortunately, many advocate networks have been started without a thoughtful analysis of potential structures and approaches:  they’ve grown haphazardly over time.  In these cases, the information below should be used to help the reader analyze the network’s current structure with an eye toward potential improvements (and resolutions in the new year!).

Following are different options for who an advocacy leader might decide to include in an advocate network:

1.)    All members of an organization (or employees of a corporation)

Many organizations choose to comprise their advocacy network of all members of their organization or employees of the corporation.  This means that everyone is considered an advocate by virtue of their membership in the organization regardless of whether they have specifically signed up for that role. Under this structure, everyone will be included in the advocate database and will receive action alerts and other materials about policy activities.

2.)    A subset of members of an organization (or employees of a corporation)

In some cases, advocacy leaders at an organization may decide to have a subset of members or employees be part of the advocacy team.  For associations, these may be individuals who specifically request to be part of the network, members of the public policy committee of the board and/or organization members who live in key legislators’ districts.  For corporations, the network may be built of only managers, owner / operators of franchises or facilities or only those employees who live in a certain geographic area or who have a certain job title.

3.)    A targeted group of individuals affiliated with an organization or company but not necessarily members or employees

Many corporations build advocacy networks as a service to their customers, as a benefit to retirees or other beneficiaries of their products or services.  Some pharmaceutical companies, for example, help finance the development of advocate groups made up of patients who benefit from their product.  In some cases, these may be established as separate, independent organizations.  In other cases, they may be directly associated with the company in question. 

4.)    Citizens-at-large or the general public (whether targeted to a specific geographic area or policy topic or more general)

Some advocate leaders find their cause to be of sufficient interest to members of the general public that they are able to recruit members of their advocate network from this broader pool.  This may include members of the general public in a specific geographic area (for example, in the case of advocacy on a city or neighborhood-specific initiative, such a new park) or more broadly, such as across a state, across the country or internationally.  In many cases, particularly with associations, a strong advocacy effort can also serve as a marketing tool to boost membership in the overall organization.

5.)    Some combination of the above

Finally, many advocate networks may include combinations of the above approaches. 

  • Scenario A:  An association includes all of their individual members as members of their advocate network, as well as members of the general public that support their ideas.
  • Scenario B:  A corporation asks all managers to be a part of the advocate network, as well as customers, retirees and others that will benefit from proposed policy changes.
  • Scenario C:  A professional association builds an advocate network based on the expressed interest of anyone, whether a member of the organization or not, in being an advocate for the policy issue in question.

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Spreading Holiday Advocacy Cheer through Social Networking

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010 by Brittany

Social networks (or “socnets”), such as Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn or the many social networks developed for specific organizations, are useful tools for associations to connect active individuals with the policy and personal interests that concern them most. 

Tips for Social Networks

For organizations unfamiliar with social networks, either in the advocacy environment or in general, following are some ideas for getting started.  In addition, note that the considerations outlined above under “Considerations for Effective Pull Communications” are particularly pertinent for the social networking environment.

  1. Getting started: Advocate leaders can start getting familiar with social networking ideas and approaches by registering on a couple of the most popular sites like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn, the latter of which is specifically oriented toward business networking. It is important to gain familiarity with the site’s privacy settings and posting structure in order to understand how these policies might apply to any group or association advocacy-related profile.
  2. Identify existing groups and related organizations:  Take steps to identify related organizations by running a search on the organization’s name and key topic areas.  In addition, most elected officials (often the targets of an advocacy campaign) have pages on these networks.  Take a moment to review the pages of the champions and detractors of your policy issues.  These profiles can offer valuable insights that will enhance the organization’s advocacy efforts.
  3. Assess potential downsides:  For many organizations, there are very few downsides to participating in an online social network.  In most cases, the policy issues with which the organization is most concerned are already being discussed by others.  In a sense, it may be more disadvantageous for the organization NOT to be involved in social network sites.  However, there are a couple of points to keep in mind when using these sites.
    • Legal implications:  Organizations with a concern about liability for potential libelous or slanderous messages posted by others on a social networking site should check with legal counsel before establishing a page.  In many cases, these concerns can be addressed by establishing a strict posting policy.
    • Tax implications:  Certain communications that can be viewed by the general public will be viewed as “grassroots lobbying” under IRS definitions, and, depending on the amount spent on these communications, may impact an organization’s 501c3 status
  4. Set up a page and/or group for your association on an existing network: Once the organization is familiar with the sites and comfortable with any potential downsides, it is time to consider establishing an identity on one or all of these sites. Many organizations have groups and profiles on all the major sites. In addition to reaching a wider audience, this approach allows the organization to protect its brand and be part of policy discussions wherever they occur. If that approach is too broad, the advocate leader can prioritize based on a couple criteria, including a) which sites members or like-minded individuals are already patronizing and b) which sites the organization is most comfortable working with.
  5. Consider starting your own network:  Organizations with a large network might want to consider starting a “niche” network not associated with one of the major networking sites. This would serve not just as an individual page on a site, but as a “hub” where everyone associated with the campaign can gather, post comments, photos, information and the like. Larger organizations with IT departments can consider creating their own social networking tools or working with an outside vendor. Free networking tools like Ning.com should also be considered (organizations using the free option will have to accept Google banner ads on your site). Through Ning, an organization can set up its own page that includes a variety of tools (blogs, forums, photo sharing, etc.).  Network members can be invited and then, once they join, can participate in forums, post materials and download whatever advocacy resources are made available at the site.
  6. Explore outreach options: Social network sites offer tremendous opportunities for reaching out to like-minded individuals and organizations. Facebook, for example, has started offering users the ability to create banner ads targeted toward members expressing interest in a specific issue.  On LinkedIn, the advocate leader can ask a network- or group-wide question about its issues as a way of introducing the organization. 

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.