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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

Monday, November 30, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Evaluating Candidates

Your issues are critical to your organization's success.  So too are your issues critical to your members.  Knowing where elected officials stand on your issues is important at all levels of government, because eventually those candidates will run for higher office, and will get to a level that impacts you.

Because of this evaluating candidates is an important step in any organization.  This guide should help you figure out the right steps to take.

You want to make sure you have different ways to evaluate candidates.  A questionnaire is a great first step.  Not everyone does well in that format.  Consider interviews, forums, one on ones, panels and other ways to get information about the candidates.

Think of the key questions important to your organization, and craft a short questionnaire about those issues, extra bonus if you can tie the issue to that level of government.  Candidates get questionnaires on all sorts of issues from all sorts of sources - Regardless of whether or not their particular level of government even addresses that issue.  Making yours short, to the point and pertinent will make you stand out.

Sure you want to know where they are on your issues.  However you also want to know where they are in their campaign.  Do they have any polling?  Do they have any fundraising information?  Do they have campaign managers? Do they know how to engage the public?  Do they have any plans to win the campaign?

The other side of what they can tell you is what they can't - and it reveals a great deal of their campaign realities.  Do they need polling, or do you have polling that says something different than theirs?  Do their fundraising strategies match the local experience?  Do their campaign managers have a successful track record? Does their campaign plan reflect the reality of what it takes to win in that area?  Knowing that information can be more effective than anything they can tell you.

The best part of being involved in coalitions is that you have a team of people doing their own evaluations and research.  Sharing that info takes you much further than anything else you can do.  Polling, interview experiences, members involved in campaigns, inside information on the election, relationships with mail houses - you name it, that information comes in very handy.


Friday, November 27, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Getting Involved In Elections

People often say they don't want to get involved in elections.  Organizations should get engaged for many reasons.  Here are some of the best ways to do it correctly -

Elections provide you an opportunity to get your members more involved in the community.  The more you are involved in the community, the better your message can make its way through to decision makers.  Your base is key to that.
- Encourage them to register to vote, it is free, it is relatively non-controversial, and it is part of what we consider our civic duty.
- Encourage them to meet the candidates and find out where they stand on issues important to them
- Give them opportunities to connect the base with the decision makers and community leaders

When candidates are running for office, they are looking for groups to support them.  AS such you are in a rare position to get your message out to them and find out where they stand on your issues.  Use this as an opportunity to bring your issues to the forefront.  Send them questionnaires and share that information with the base.

Often your base - and the public in general - don't know what is happening on a local level with their elected officials.  This provides opportunities for you as an organization. 

Host a debate, on your issue, and bring it to the base and the public in general.  Host a forum where the public can ask these individuals questions directly.  For a bonus effort, you can follow up the event with a private reception for your larger political supporters.

There may or may not be candidates that you support.  However the base will likely have candidates they like.  Encourage them to get involved with those candidates and support their campaigns through campaign activities. 

Let the candidates know - and your own base - how many of your members participated in efforts, contributed to campaigns, got involved in political efforts.  This will leave a lasting impression with both groups, and can be something to build on into the future.

Getting involved in elections can come in many different ways.  Every organization that wants to be successful should be implementing this strategy to advance their membership and position in the community.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Political Thanks

We make a lot on this blog that there is so much more that can be done with the level of political discourse, civic engagement, and strategic thinking when it comes to getting involved in politics. 

For a minute, let's look at all we have to be thankful for politically -

- We have the right to complain about what is happening
- We have the ability to make changes to what is going on
- We can freely work together with others who are like minded and want change
- We can take issues that aren't popular, aren't fully understood, and make them important
- We take our opportunities that we make in the industry
- We take the time to learn about our system and how to change it
- We make a difference in our communities
- We make our leaders listen to us

Not every country has those rights, and we should be thankful we have them.

And the best way to show our thanks to those who came before us to help ensure that we had those rights is to NEVER surrender them to government control.


Monday, November 23, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Training Community Leaders

Organizations engaged politically often say that it would be a lot easier if the people elected were from their ranks.  Short of being able to do that, you can work with organizations to make sure everyone elected understands your organization - something few organizations take full advantage of in advancing their agendas.

However if you take one moment to think about who actually runs government policy, it is people who are involved in different organizations around the community.  Finding ways to bring other organizations in to your vision is a great way to advance your policy with leaders current and future.

This is a natural for any organization.  Every community leader is involved.  Every community leader.  Getting involved is important, but even more important is working with them.  Often they are looking for information to present to their members, your public presentations on your policies are an easy fit.  Even better teaching others how you came to your "economic impact" information about what you do.  Co sponsoring events elevates them and you.

Candidate school, about our industry school, meet our leaders event.  All things that someone who wants to be involved would come to.  Then target your invite list to current and future elected officials.  Bring them in and teach them what you need them to know.  Listed in there is a candidate school, maybe you partner with business groups and offer one to candidates for free.  You have a captive audience of leaders to learn about you.

Most communities offer a class of "Leadership (insert community here)" which is supposed to be the key individuals running organizations, getting involved with the community, and likely to become elected officials.  Often the Chamber of Commerce is involved.  Often people from other important groups you wouldn't have access to are involved.  They are always looking for important content.  Having a part where you present the important impacts of your organization to the community goes a long way, and you could begin to educate future leaders on your issues.

You'd be surprised how many elected officials serve as adjunct professors at local colleges and universities.  You'd also be surprised how many important public studies are handled by college and university departments.  Building relationships at the college and university faculty and administration level, you would be able to shape your relationship in the community beyond what you would otherwise.

Yeah, I know, what does the PTA have to do with your organization?  More people run for local office out of the local PTAs and School Boards than anywhere else.  So what can you do with them?  Sponsor their upcoming events:
- It may be as simple as providing gift cards for their raffles
- You might be able to develop an educational field trip for the schools to your site
- You might be able to offer older computers/ materials/ tools/ whatever machinery you have available to the school
Building those relationships and promoting the value of your organization is incredibly important.


Friday, November 20, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Community Groups and Coalitions

Building your presence in the community means more than knowing the key players.  It means building a relationship with the organizations that drive your community.  The unique position you have is that you can build these organizations if they don't exist, and when they do, you can be the coalition builder in just a few simple steps:

1) COME WITH IDEAS - There are plenty of things you can work together on as organizations.  Maybe its an update on the current trends in your industry, maybe its a policy discussion.  Being able to bring things to work on together is what will lead to gravitation in your direction.

2) MEET ON COMMON GROUNDS - Where is it important to be seen, and who is it important to be seen with is sometimes even more important than what it is you are doing.  Presence is about building a relationship not just for yourself, but for others.  Being able to make the right introduction to the right person can be more valuable than anything else.  As such making sure you always find opportunities to meet in a public place where other leaders congregate is a great idea.  If you don't know where that is, make one - set one meeting with one person at a location at 3, and an hour later someone else, and introduce them in passing.

3) DON'T PUSH - Coalitions are easy to build, but even easier to destroy.  Knowing when you are at the edge of what the group is comfortable with is an important factor to making sure your organization continues on.  There will be plenty of times where you drive the discussion, and plenty of times where you are dragging others along to a common goal.  But be sure to recognize those warning signs that you are going beyond their comfort zone.

4) SERVICE FIRST - Many of these organizations are predicated on the notion that service to the community is the goal of the organization.  Even business focused organizations.  It may not be your direct interest, it may not even be something you fully understand, but sometimes throwing caution to the wind and diving in to lend a helping hand in something you have no connection to goes much further than anything else, especially knowing that you are trying to drive an issue sometime soon.

5) FOLLOW UP - Anything you come up with, work on, decide, or even just show up for requires follow up in community groups.  Why?  Because no one does any follow up, and sometimes things you've asked for get forgotten.  Plus showing some initiative to follow up positions you as a leader, and someone people can rely on.  Use this to your advantage whenever possible.

Coalitions and community groups are great places to find support for issues, but the relationship must be there first. Build that and you will have more success.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How Little Politics Influences Big Politics

We've all heard how "top of the ticket" (President, Governor, etc.) influences the "down ticket" (State Legislature, County Government, Etc.) races.  It's easy to understand, uninformed voters look for the party at the top of the ticket, or the person who inspires them running for the larger office, and as a result they vote for people of the same party all the way down.

That's not always the case however anymore.  With so much gridlock at the state and national levels, more and more policy is being enacted at the local level.  And with good reason - There is less resistance there.

Part of the reason there is so much legislative gridlock at the national level is because there is so much research and vetting required to make national policy that by the time an issue is ready to debated, much of it has been watered down.  And that is before the horsetrading of the legislature steps in to muck it up further.

On the local level however that vetting process has a much less rigorous review, and there is much less to trade.

As a result, policies at the local level are passing much more quickly than the state and national level.  Just take a look at the most recent hot-topic issues - the sharing economy:

Uber has found more success and challenges city by city than state by state.
AirBnB is being challenged with local policies differing city by city.

Or look at how established industries are being affected:

Development and construction are finding more success with local negotiations than reforming state regulations
Natural Resources find it easier to get easements locally than working with the natural resources regulators

Or look at how regulation is affecting industries such as supplements

More legislation on the use, sale and distribution of synthetic supplements is occurring at the local and state levels than at the national level because of the backlog of reviews at the FDA.

As such local politicians are being seen as more effective in dealing with complex issues that higher levels of government are neglecting.  As such, they are influencing policy and debates at the higher levels, and this is a trend that will likely lead to lower level government elected officials being able to supplant those governing above them as they get more exposure on these key issues.

Monday, November 16, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Outreach to the Media

They say that the biggest fear people have is speaking in front of a group.  If that is true, then the biggest fear most organizations have is speaking to the media.  The reason for this is simple - They will never report exactly what you want exactly how you want it to be reported.

You can either accept that reality and work with it, or you can hide from the Media and let them write whatever they want about you.  Obviously that is not the best option.  However here are some options you might consider in getting a favorable position with the press.

1) THEY ARE PEOPLE TOO - Despite what you may have experienced, in general they are just people trying to do a job.  And they are not experts in your field.  They are relying on you to make your message simple to understand to people like them that also don't know your field.  Think of them like the guy you met at the dinner party that you had to explain your business to and had to put it in terms they could understand.

2) REACH OUT BEFORE YOU HAVE TO - Just like any relationship, its best to have that familiarity before you need it.  Take them to coffee, meet them on their terms, and make them comfortable reaching out to you.  The stronger people's comfort level is with you, the more likely you are to gain their trust.

3) GIVE THEM SOMETHING - Provide them information that they may not have access to, make sure that they understand the value of that information, and what they could do with it, and above all, check your facts to make sure they are supportive of your position.  The only thing worse than giving them nothing, is giving them something that is wrong.

Press kits can make the difference
4) WRITE THEIR STORY - Reporters are looking for the story, always.  The more information and detail you can give them when there is a story, the better.  In fact write a sample story for them.  Give them a packet sheet.  Make sure they have all the information necessary, and let your story become theirs.

5) THANK THEM SINCERELY - The only real truth is that all press is good press.  People see the name and that's what they remember.  Even the bad things are opportunities to become good things.  Use that information to your advantage, and always thank them when something is said about you - even if it is negative, thank them for taking a look at the issue.  Offer that you'd like to be a resource to them in the future on these issues, and be sincere... no matter how mad you are at how badly they misrepresented the situation.

They are people, working on an issue, trying to get something accomplished.  Just like you.  They are your best friend - if you handle it right.


Friday, November 13, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Outreach to Community Leaders

One of the most overlooked components of an organization's success is its perception and support within the community.  This goes for both the community it represents, and the community where it is located.  This is an important distinction, however the process of being engaged and effective in these communities is the same.

The best way to address this opportunity is to follow these steps -

1) Ask yourself - What opportunities exist in your communities?  What spaces do you need to be in, in order to be effective?  Who do you need to know in the community?  Who will be important in making those connections and opportunities for you?

2) Start With Elected Officials - They are probably the easiest group to identify and contact.  Your city council, local school board (don't overlook them), your state representatives, your members of congress - whomever is elected in your area - they are your first group to outreach to.  More importantly, they can recommend who else you should speak with.

3) Reach Out To Community Organizations - Fraternal organizations, business organizations, the chamber of commerce, local philanthropic organizations and the like typically house the community leaders in some capacity.  Knowing how to engage with them, and where to engage with them, is an important aspect of building that rapport with them.  Also consider church groups as many have greater influence than you've previously considered in the communities.

4) Talk To Your Affiliates - Whether that is a supplier, a business organization, an affiliated industry, or just people you've worked with in the community.  Bring them in to help you figure out where you need to connect.  They can also be helpful in making those connections.

5) Have An Offer - You don't want to start any relationship with an ask.  So instead plan to have something you can offer.  A business offering, a community resource, or just an opportunity to help.  Starting with an offer helps make your approach seem much more communal than self serving.

Reaching out to community leaders is simple, it's just taking the steps to officially do it that will matter.  Make sure your efforts are engaging, interesting and easy to support.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Downfall of Debates

In just a few days we are going to have the first of the Democratic Debates for presidential candidates.  We've already had several Republican ones.  Here's where the problem lies -

The purpose of a debate is to identify differences between the candidates, and see which ones align most with your personal beliefs on issues important to you.

Despite the spectacle of some of the Republican debates, they have managed to identify stark differences between the candidates on a wide range of topics.

However they have not gone into detail on them.  So really all we have heard are surface comments on the issues.  Soundbytes designed to get a reaction.  And they have.

The debates themselves however lack the enthusiasm and depth that the country deserves in making this decision.

So what should we look for from the Democratic candidates?
  • Where do they see the biggest issues facing the country being? and more importantly do they have thoughts on how to fix them that have some semblance of detail and structure?  Not lip service, not soundbytes, depth.  It is unreasonable to assume they have every detail worked out at this point, but something more than a talking point is imperative.
  • What about their plan is better than the Republican positions?  Like it or not the next president will almost assuredly be from one of the two parties.  And despite what some observers like to say - there is a major difference between the parties and the candidates.  However what makes one more appealing or likely to work than the others?
  • How will they work their ideas through congress?  A great resource to follow is the Five Thirty Eight Blog to see how things are shaping up.  (Also Real Clear Politics, Politico, and the Hill - all strong insights into congress)  If a Democrat wins, they are likely to have to work with a Republican controlled congress (Senate is less sure than the house, but still a strong party line).  That means any idea they talk about they need to convince the other party to go along with.  Right wrong or indifferent - Clinton, Bush and Obama all faced challenges there.  How will these candidates overcome that?
Any candidate that cant answer these key points... isn't worth supporting.  Regardless of party


Monday, November 9, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Commmunicating Issues Externally

Every organization that has attempted to discuss issues impacting them has at one point or another been faced with opposition for being seen as "self serving." It's unavoidable. No matter what you do, it is going to to be said. Don't waste a single second being consumed about it. Just. Move. On.

That said, you should do your best to mitigate these comments. The previous section (LINK) covered how to have the discussion within your own organization - and many of these suggestions hold true for external communication as well - however there are ways to communicate externally that shift the discussion some. You should try to incorporate these.

REFRAME THE IMPACT - You know full well how your business/ industry/ organization will be impacted. However it makes a much more impacting presentation if you can show how this issue affects others - and can do so from their perspective. Have a brainstorming session to come up with the perspectives, and shape the discussion. Don't be afraid to invite in the groups you believe to be impacted to get their take on the issue.

BUILD THAT COALITION - Once you see how far out the impacts of an issue can go, bring in the groups that represent those impacted organizations. Get them on board. Coalitions are much more effective to the broader public than a lone voice.

THIRD PARTY IS KEY - Research. Information Sessions. Studies. All of these types of input are essential, but need to be at an arm's length. The more you can show that the impacts you are referring to were found by others and not commissioned by you, the better off you will be in communicating a believable position.

BE AVAILABLE - Once you start showing impacts to others, they are going to want to learn more. Making yourself available to explain further in detail will help serve that coalition building, as well as position you as being open, honest, and forthright on the issue.

KEEP IT IMPERSONAL - The fact of the matter is this - People take on a personal attachment to issues.  The more you can avoid this, the better.  Present everything calmly and dispassionately.  Receive opposition and criticism with compassion and understanding, and present alternative issues that the people opposing your position may not have considered.  You wont win them all over, but you will be seen as sincere - which to the undecided individuals will be important.

Know that you are going to face opposition - however doing nothing in the face of opposition is as good as letting the other side win.  Don't worry about any of the outside factors that could influence your success, just present your side.


Friday, November 6, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Issue Communication Interally

Government and politics are an interesting industry.  Everyone has an opinion on them and are convinced they are right and knowledgeable on the issue - even when they absolutely are not.  Nowhere is that more clear than when you attempt to discuss your organization's position on an issue without the proper context.

You will no sooner state your position than your phone will be ringing off the hook with upset members of the organization telling you how wrong you are.

That is why when you're communicating on an issue that involves government and politics you have to walk a very thin line to do it successfully.  Here are some of the ways to better position your success.

START SIMPLY AND EARLY - When you know an issue is going to be popping up, start as early as possible.  If you don't know an issue is going to pop up, try some very simple messages on an issue.  The earlier it is discussed, the more understanding you can lead to.

INVITE FEEDBACK - Give people an opportunity to express their opinion.  Do a survey, hold a meeting, send an email... whatever it takes to give them the opportunity to express their opinions, the more comfortable they will be that their opinion was heard.

FRAME THE VANTAGE POINT - More than just framing the issue - which is absolutely necessary - you should also frame the vantage point from which you are assessing an issue.  How will this impact the business?  The industry? The organization? The employees? The suppliers?  What are the perspectives from which people should be considering the issue - and ESPECIALLY how can they take it off of their personal opinions?

RESEARCH - The real reason that under-informed people argue over political and policy issues is because they base their position off of opinion, something they heard, or from a personal response.  However when presented with a lot of information that dispassionately leads to a different position, they are more apt to open up to a differing point of view.  Provide that research - legal, statistical, empirical, etc. and shape it into a discussion the can relate to - in other words, tell a story with the research.

REPORT FEEDBACK - Let people know that you have heard them.  Show both sides of an issue, and guide the discussion.  Show ways in which the information is leading the organization.  They may disagree, but they will at least see that they were heard.

These steps - if nothing else - give you an opportunity to point back and say "We've been discussing this issue for a while, and you have had your opportunity to weigh in on the issue.  However from the position of the organization, this is the best course to take."  Even when the issue is unpopular, at least you have the opportunity to present the other side in a detailed fashion.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Bully Politics - And It's Effects on a Community

The situation isn't new.  There is a group pushing a particular issue in town, they get passionate, and then they start to push a little too hard.

People get offended, turn off, and even shy away from getting involved.  And often the forceful group gets their way.

It happens frequently, people take on a cause and get wrapped up personally into the issue.  Then they can't understand why other people don's share that passion, and especially when their point of views differ.

This quickly turns into anger and resentment.  Then to pressure.  Then to public reactions on private opinions.  Then to outright hatred for the other side.  No kidding this happens more than you think.  The goal becomes to vilify the opponents rather than respond to the issue.

As you can see this situation is one of the worst things that can happen to a community.  The personal attacks dont heal quickly - if at all - and can leave people challenged in their issues.  Knowing how to curtail the personalizing of issues is often one of the first steps to achieving victory on an issue.

Here are some suggestions of how to address this problem with the least amount of damage in the community -

DETATCH THE ISSUE - If you can come in and dispassionately address the issue not as a function of impact but a function of governance, you cam move the issue away from how people are being affected, and as such make it a better discussion for everyone (don't worry, those people personally invested will still be incensed that you oppose them).

DATA NOT DESCRIPTIONS - People quickly and easily react to a single experience.  However the power of that experience dissipates when scope is introduced.  "Yes, that one time that thing happened and it was bad.  However it happens 1000 times as often with good result."  This moves the discussion into the whole, not the single.

RESEARCH NOT OPINIONS - Whenever possible, point to research that has been done at an arms length - meaning not seemingly commissioned by an interested party.  You can point to the needs of the whole much more legitimately if you can point to research backing your position.

CALM DEMEANOR ALWAYS - There will be times of frustration.  This is not something to let loose.  It looses your credibility.

PACKAGE THE ISSUE - You have research, data, background and an even keeled presentation.  Be the voice of reason on the issue and present an entire picture, not just the impassioned plea of the aggrieved.

This wont always work, but at the end of the day you will keep your credibility.

Monday, November 2, 2015

5 Quick Ideas - Gathering Data with a Focus Group

One of the more overlooked opportunities for gathering information by associations is the Focus Group.

Whether you call it a "roundtable" a "discussion" or a "focus group," a small group format of discussing issues is essential to getting more feedback than you can get in many other forums.  The reason is simple - its in person.

A Temperature Taking Survey gives you self selected participants who have an interest.  A poll gives you a random sampling - but with a distance between you and the poll taker.  A focus group puts the respondent in the room, comfortable, and in front of you.  So how do you do it correctly?

PLAN THE CONVERSATION AHEAD - One of the biggest mistakes that people make while doing focus groups is that they don't effectively plan ahead for the conversation.  Sure you've got your questions, but what are the ways that the answers can go?  How can the conversation get derailed? How can you get the group back on track?  And what should you allow exploration of when discussing these issues?  There are lots of opportunities that you can take to make sure you get the best responses necessary.

SEGMENT YOUR GROUPS - Know who the audiences are and try to group them together.  If you want to gauge the reaction of age groups, put them in separate age ranges.  If there are certain market segments you want to test, put them together.  Whatever you are trying to look for, get those people together, the organic discussion grows better together.

PLAN FOR CRAZY - No matter how well you screen, there are things you just can't be totally sure of until you're in the moment.  There will be someone who dominates the conversation - plan how to politely include others.  There will be someone who wont come out of their shell - plan how you are going to engage them.  There will be something that happened to someone in the room that is clouding their thoughts - plan how to get them off of their personal or singular experience and get them back on topic.  Some talk show host will have said something that day that resonates with someone on a level you can't begin to imagine having ANY impact on your issue, but in their mind "it's all related" - plan how you disassociate from their crazy train.

GET MULTIPLE OBSERVATIONS - You will be focused on the conversation, and you may be able to get a good handle on the discussion, but there are things you wont catch.  Have other people there to catch the participant who "bristles" at your suggestion, or the participant who gives non verbal cues as to what they are thinking.  This is more about gauging reaction than getting Quantifiable Data.  Focus groups are what is called Qualitative Data.  You test your quantifiable with the qualitative.  And together you can compare the notes.  However a quick warning - too many people in the room becomes overwhelming.  That's why you see the rooms with the one way mirrors.

CONSIDER A FOLLOW UP SESSION - You may have a few people who are very passionate in their responses.  However their responses may not match what the responses were from a different segment.  Sometimes it is useful to see how the groups work these discussions out.  Often you can refine broader messages by getting the reactions of cross sections of respondents.

These efforts are essential for getting your direction and messages right.  However more often than not, they are under-utilized by organizations seeking clarity on their actions.  Data is the key to making the right moves with the right acceptance levels.  use the research methods available to you to become more successful and you will be glad that you did.