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.
July 1st, 2011 by Autumn
The annual Association TRENDS Compensation Report results have been tallied, and the findings confirm that GR professionals in the nonprofit world are still paid more in the DC area than they are across the country. Within the capital region, the average salary for GR Directors is $163,642 in the District, $156,263 in Maryland, and $151,056 in Virginia. For all other government relations positions in the area, the trends are similar: professionals earn the most in DC, followed by Maryland, with Virginia closing out the list. However, it is worth noting that there were more director-level GR positions in companies based in Virginia than in Maryland organizations.
For more information on the TRENDS compensation report, visit here for the DC report or here for the National version.
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.