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We are in the process of updating our website. In the meantime, you can find out information about us here. For further information, please email us:
Chip Ahlswede
Meredith Weisel

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Recapping September

September, as you've probably seen, has marked somewhat of a re-commitment to sharing what we've learned at Government Affairs Strategies while working with local, state, and national and international organizations in their advocacy efforts.

Here is a quick run down of what we've published this month -
In September, we also introduced a new series we are publishing - "5 Quick Ideas", aimed at assisting associations in the development of their government affairs programs.  Hoping for this to be a twice-weekly update, this series is intended to give you a quick 5 ideas that can build upon your program, and hopefully direct you in different resources and thoughts on accomplishing those goals -
 As we move into October, if you have any ideas of what you'd like to see in these updates, please share them with us -
Chip Ahlswede - chip@gastrategies.com
Meredith Weisel - meredith@gastrategies.com
Have a great start to your month, and don't forget to follow us -

Monday, September 28, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - The Issues That Define You

Knowing what you stand for is a key element of being successful.  It also defines what others will be committing to when they want to support your efforts.  Because of this, defining your issues is critical.

This is a guide to help you maintain and define what issues will be important to your effort.

SET BOUNDARIES - You would be surprised how quickly you can get sucked into an issue you have nothing to do with.  It is why we defined this as key in getting started.  Define who you are.  Define what matters to you.  Define how you get involved in issues.

ESTABLISH PROCEDURES - There are going to be issues that aren't your core issue that you still need to address.  Know how to get there, ways to engage issues, groups you can partner with.  And then define procedures for issues that are core to you, and those that are not your core.

CLARIFY YOUR POSITION - Knowing what you stand for is one thing, being able to get others to understand is another.  Spend the extra time figuring out how others can understand what you are communicating to them.  The clearer your comment is, the better the response will be.

PLAN FOR WHAT YOU DIDN'T EXPECT - Identifying the issues that matter are one thing.  Its the issues you didn't think of that will get you.  How are you going to address those?  How are you going to advocate for these issues?  How are you going to get approval to move forward?

UNDERSTANDING PRIORITIES - What's important to you is not necessarily important to the body deciding the issue.  Seeing what their issues are and where your ideas might intersect will help define what you can accomplish in the near and long term.  You want to have success, and it may not come first in your biggest issue.  That may be a good thing.

Issues done right with the right leadership will be the success of your program long term.

Friday, September 25, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - The RIGHT Team is More Important Than a Full Team

 I recently had a conversation about how volunteerism is down everywhere, its true.  But the RIGHT people, saying the RIGHT things, and engaging the RIGHT volunteers leads to more success than having a full boat.

As you get started in building your government affairs team - and as you build its success, your team will be crucial to its success.  So who do you look for?

  1. PICK LEADERS NOT SEEKERS - There are those that seek to be seen as leaders, and those that are leaders.  You want the later.  People can sense the wanna-bes and they dont want to be a part of that team.
  2. DIVERSIFY - Yes, its going to cause some fighting on perspectives, however if you followed the advice of Building A Program That Lasts - they will know how to check their ego and politics at the door.
  3. ENCOURAGE - Improv has a principle that you never say no, you build off of "yes and".  It is how a scene can innovate, evolve, and create something new.  It's also how a team builds trust.  You want a diverse team of leaders to work together.
  4. CONNECT INTERESTS - Your team is going to have different interests and skillsets.  Work with those, don't try to make a square peg fit in a round hole.  Jim Collins, author of Good to Great demonstrates this with his concept of getting the right people on the right bus and in the right seats on the bus.
  5. ASSIGN & ACKNOWLEDGE - There is nothing worse to a leader than being asked to be a part of something without any direction or expectations.  The second worst thing is to not acknowledge, thank, and promote the contributions they gave.
Make sure everyone on the team is bought into this program, and if you do have a team like this, you are going to get the respect your organization needs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How You're Going To Lose Your Future Advocacy Efforts

Advocacy has fundamentally changed.  We've all seen it.  What worked even 2 years ago, isn't necessarily effective anymore.
  • Letter campaigns are now screened for harmful substances and are not timely.
  • "Call Your Congressman" campaigns result in ticks for an up or down vote only.
  • Email campaigns are almost ignored if they look like they are mass-produced.
  • Congress members and staffers are less trusting of advocacy groups.
  • Fly-ins are costly, difficult to manage, and only a few people are there.
However this is how just about every organization addresses their advocacy.  You need to keep doing this and add to the discussion. Your effort is an important addition to the noise, but its not enough.

Some have some creative alternative ideas -
  • Meeting their elected officials "in their districts" meaning at their local offices.
  • Working with local staff to get the message delivered back to capitol staff.
  • Attending local events in support of the elected official.
These are all examples of a great next step.  The problem is most organizations stop there.  And it STILL isn't enough.

The problem honestly is, they are only hearing from YOU.  Your issue, your problem, your message.  The more organizations fill the space talking about only themselves and their own issues, the less impacting your advocacy efforts are going to be.

Being effective in the future will mean bringing in groups that aren't your members, your peers, your industry, your influence group.  Being effective will mean bringing in other groups to speak on your behalf:
  • Coalitions
  • Affiliated groups
  • Leaders outside your core group
Truth be told, in a few years that too will not be enough, because everyone else will be doing that.

If you are going to stay the same, you are going to lose as you get swallowed up by the noise.  You need to change, evolve, and be two steps ahead of the pack.

Money will only be able to go so far in politics.  Efforts can only be so effective.  If you want to truly succeed long term, you need to be planning now for what your effort will look like in several years.

Monday, September 21, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Building A Government Affairs Program That Lasts

Getting a government affairs program off the ground is a challenge.  Undoubtedly the people you have involved are invested - which is mostly great.  The part where it isn't great is where support could challenge your program's success.

The following ideas should help you figure out how to properly start -
  1. CHECK THE EGOS AT THE DOOR - The biggest threat to the program is the personalities of those involved.  The goal is to benefit the organization, not the individuals.  As such, everyone involved needs to buy into that fact, and commit / reaffirm it every time you work together.
  2. ALSO, CHECK YOUR POLITICS - It's GREAT that your volunteer know the State Senator from the area.  What isn't great is that your volunteer pushes that Senator's political agenda.  This applies to political parties, other organizations, or philosophical viewpoints as well.  The politics of your organization center on your issues, and your issues are what impacts your organization.
  3. ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES - You can find a reason why any issue impacts your core beliefs.  However getting launched into fights that aren't yours will divide your supporters and lead to the demise of your effort.
  4. START WITH AGREEMENT - President Reagan and Speaker O'Neill often found agreement despite having diametrically different political views by simply starting where they agreed, and worked to the details where they differed.  It wasn't perfect, but it was an approach that moved towards more success than failure.
  5. SYNTHESIZE YOUR MESSAGE - The reason you are going through this effort is to represent an interest.  The only way to spread the message is to make it easier to understand.  Whenever you leave your meetings, agree on a simple statement of what was accomplished, and promote it to everyone you want to support your effort.
There are many keys to success, but these 5 will make create the information that you can build upon.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Proper Care and Feeding of Contact Relationships

The most successful government affairs programs center around a strong contact database.  Whether you are looking to change policy, increase your PAC, or build coalitions, your contact database is going to be the key to unlocking success with other people in your efforts.

Simply put the deeper your reach, the more effective you can be in your efforts.  Influence depends on trust, reach, and support.  A broad contact database can provide you with the ability to influence others to support your efforts.

So where do you start in these efforts?
  1. YOUR CURRENT LIST - Who do you know to start with, and how can you get a hold of them?  Sure you've got their work phone numbers, but do you have their home phones, cell phones, email addresses (including personal), or other ways to get messages to them?  
    1. Do you have them organized into contact groups - meaning if you need to quickly get a message to a group of people quickly, can you get a blast out without looking up a bunch of people?  
    2. Do you know how to get a hold of them on social media?
    3. No idea how to figure this out? - Check out the RAP Index
  2. YOUR MAIN AUDIENCE - Whether that is your employees, core volunteers,
    membership, leadership, or key businesses, the best place to start is there.  Obviously knowing how to communicate to them is key, but more importantly, you want to know who they influence:
    1. Do they know elected officials, community leaders, business leaders?
    2. Are they "influencers" to certain groups either within your audience or the community in general?
    3. Are they willing to promote your messages for you?
    4. No idea how to engage them?  Check out NationBuilder
  3.  YOUR CORE LEADERS - Slightly different than your broad organization here we mean your people that will take the message out for you.  The ones you can empower with tools like Aristotle to build that PAC and grassroots presence.
  4. COMMUNITY LEADERS - Where are your holes?  You know who your members are and who they influence, but who is important that you can't get to quickly?  This list could be elected officials you don't have a relationship with, or large businesses / organizations in town that have a strong reach / influence. How can you get to them?  Have you looked at resources such as CapWiz to assist you in this?
  5. MEDIA - Do you maintain an active media list for your organization?  By active we mean actually engaged with them and connected through social media and the like.  One of the core resources for this is Vocus.
  6. YOUR INFLUENCER'S INFLUENCERS - Who do the people you are trying to convince engage with online?  And can you reach out to and incorporate them?
Next comes the act of engaging with them.

The secret that social media doesn't want to admit is - just because you have 2500 friends on Facebook... that doesn't mean you have 2500 friends.

Friends, whether online or in real life, require attention.  Otherwise your contacts are the online equivalent of that guy who ordered beer ahead of you at a hosted bar event that you made a joke about getting more free tickets with.

The good news is attention can be given in many different ways online to cultivate that relationship. Here are a few simple ways that wont take a lot of time for you
  • "liking" updates and photos
  • Commenting on people's updates (It doesn't have to be much, just a "good info")
  • Sharing other people's updates when appropriate (dont share other people's kid's info
  • Putting up an update that you tag people in (because they may be interested)
  • Promoting your updates / posts / etc. in areas where they would be interested
  • Creating smart links (shortened URLs using a service like Bitly) so that your updates could be shared
  • Dropping them a quick "Hey, how are you doing?" type message
Thinking about those same 2500 contacts - If you liked 10 updates, put in 10 comments on updates, shared 10 more, tagged 10 people in your update, sent 10 people a "hey how are you?" message each day - all of which would take you less than 5 minutes in a day - You would have a person touch to all 2500 every 2 months.

That is how you cultivate those relationships.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Protecting The Only Currency You've Got - Trust

Trust Creates Peace

Recently I held a meeting. A nice introductory meeting for everyone where we had an open forum to talk about issues, ideas and planning for the future. It was treated as most meetings are, an opportunity to open up about issues important to you, and have an open dialogue. As happens in meetings of this nature, people said some unfiltered and not necessarily supportive or popular things. In other words, people opened up. Talked about issues impacting them. It began a great relationship moving towards trust.

And then it happened.

One of the people in the room didn't like everything that was said. That person immediately ran to a blogger, spilled their guts, and the blogger wrote an excoriating denouncement of the group, the organization, the meeting and the attendees - without of course reaching out to other attendees to confirm anything.

I know this might be surprising, but "gotcha blogs" aren't exactly beholden to any sort of standard of honesty let alone journalistic standards.

With little more than an impression and an internet connection this blogger immediately destroyed the trust of the people in that room. In 2012, Fast Company wrote an incredible piece on protecting the trust of your business, and essentially this applies in organizations as well.

In one of the now more famous Ted Talks, Rachel Botsman - an expert on the new collaborative business environments - explains that Trust is the currency of the new economy -
And in one poorly advised move one individual managed to jeopardized the trust of an organization that is over 100 years old.

Right now you may be thinking, "Big deal, one person talking to one blog about one meeting... what could that lead to?" The answer to that is actually quite simple -
"Put not your trust in money, but your money in trust."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes
In other words people shouldn't invest in something they don't trust, and that starts with something as simple as someone hearing something somewhere.
  • If they hear something that causes doubt, they don't trust the message
  • If they don't trust the message they cast doubt to others
  • If they cast doubt to others, the support withers
  • If the support withers... so does the money
Which is where your organization, business, or individual loses the ability to be effective.

So how do you protect it?

This answer differs for business and organizations.

With business the answer is relatively simple - you cut out the cancer, make a corrective action, and declare a victory.  If that means firing someone, getting a new vendor, or changing a business partner, that is the move you make - and then, above all else, you tell everyone what you just did.  After which you move on and don't discuss the problem again.

Organizations the answer becomes a little different.  Often you have volunteers, you have people who feel that they should be recognized for their efforts, you have people who feel that they should have freedoms within the organization.

While organizations thrive off of membership involvement, that shouldn't take precedence over the trust of the organization - there will always be more volunteers.

That said you can't just cut out the cancer because it puts people on edge and makes them less likely to go out on a limb if they think they are going to get cut out.

Here is how we handled the issue -
  1. LEADERSHIP - the leadership was brought in to the situation to discuss how to move forward.  Their input was sought, their involvement was sought, and collectively the group moved forward on one course of action.
  2. CONFRONTATION - the issue couldn't be left alone, it needed to be confronted.  The leadership stood forward and confronted the individual in a one on one meeting about what happened.
  3. REACTION AND REGROUPING - after the confrontation the group connected again to exchange reactions - in this case the offending individual lied, covered up and attempted to pass the blame - however it is blatant and transparent.
  4. CORRECTIVE ACTION - the discussion became how the organization operated and what protections could have been in place:
    1. Was there a stated policy of the organization about such incidents?
    2. Was there a procedure to address such transgressions?
    3. Were there protections in place to stop this from happening again (ie. Confidentiality agreements)?
    4. Are there mitigating circumstances that could be used in addressing the issue (timing, appointments, meetings, decisions etc.)?
    5. Could the group move forward without the trust being broken again?
  5. IMPLEMENTATION - of the missing items, what could be brought in on the short term, and what needed to be long term measures to address the issue?
  6. EXECUTION - implementing the controls, messages, and efforts of the organization
The only way you can keep that trust is to work openly and combat misinformation through a clear process.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How Quickly Can You Build a PAC Fundraising Culture?

Today I am off to Beautiful Downtown Tempe.  Home of theArizona State University Sun Devils, and my well spent College Years.  My Delta Sigma Phi fraternity house may be gone from Alpha Drive, but the lessons I learned there live on.

One of those lessons was that organizations operate off of a culture.  If you're a jock, you're in the jock house, and you do jock things.  If you don't care about something, your peers aren't going to care about something, and therefore that something wont get done.  It's just kind of how organizations work.

I also learned that just because you operated one way, it didn't mean you couldn't shift.  Cultures Can Change!

So I will be meeting with a business group today that has a historical culture of NOT raising PAC funds.
  • Their member participation rate was low
  • Their total dollars raised per year was low
  • Their dollars per contributor rate was low
  • Their awareness of the PAC was low
So much so that I was repeatedly told for years that it wasn't that THEIR participation was lacking, it was that their participation reflected the state's participation in political engagement in ANY form.

This was a very convenient excuse because it sounded reasonable.  It's a state culture, not ours.  Regardless of whether or not that was true, its what they believed.

So several years ago I set about to help them change that culture.  Population wise its a good sized state, political influence wise it is a strong state, and even presence on the national stage, it is a strong state.  So why couldn't this group too become a more influential state when it comes to the PAC?

We started with a simple question - How can we change the culture here?

In examining exactly how they can shift the culture, we started with a small plan to get the leadership more engaged, to pass that through the organization, to the industry leaders, and out to the general members to become a stronger PAC state.

So what kind of results have we had?
  • Every chapter in the state has improved their fundraising year over year in terms of participation rates and dollars raised by up to seven times in some chapters
  • The state has improved its overall fundraising rates by about 20% year over year the past two years
  • So far in 2015 they have raised 20% more than they did in all of 2014 with 4 months to go in the year.
  • In less than 2 years they have increased their participation rate and fundraising totals by 50% each.
So how did they do it?  What changed?  What was the catalyst?

They each committed to trying and did try new things. 

Not everything worked, but nothing was catastrophic as they feared.  And they learned that they could accomplish something by just trying.

They still have a ways to go to meet their goals, but the culture has shifted, and provided they keep up the work, the culture will have permanently changed for their organization.