#6 – Politics is Sleazy.
Hopefully, you don’t really believe this. But if you do, then spend a few moments asking yourself why you feel this way.
Is it because of what you see on television or read in print or on social media? If that’s the case, remember you’re only get a very brief synopsis of an incident or, especially in today’s word perhaps “fake news”. It’s one person’s opinion or version of a story. You know there’s usually much more to a story than the hype, so don’t make judgements based upon a one-minute story or a few comments on social media.
Maybe you believe politics is sleazy based upon a perception of how the “political chess game” is played in your state capitol or in Washington D.C. If that’s the case, there’s only one way to change the situation…GET INVOLVED AND HELP CHANGE THE RULES OF THE GAME!
This starts by always being respectful of the person and the office. Publicly bashing lawmakers only serves to further the perception that politics is sleazy. Whether you do it through social media or in a public forum, you never know if their friend or a supporter will hear your comments and convey them to the lawmaker. If you disagree with them… talk privately, and hopefully they will extend the same courtesy to you.
Honesty, trust, good moral values and ethics DO exist in the political arena. By focusing on building a positive relationship with legislators based on these characteristics, you’ll soon discover that politicians at all levels of government are committed, passionate individuals working hard for the benefit of their communities.
Your Partner in Advocacy…Kathy
#5 – Advocacy doesn’t make a difference, so I shouldn’t bother.
This is another perception that simply isn’t true. In fact it couldn’t be further from the truth. On many occasions, lawmakers are looking to you (or a lobbyist) to help educate them on an issue and help them determine how to vote!
During the legislative session, lawmakers are incredibly busy. They have several meetings every day with constituents, lobbyists and their colleagues. During these encounters they hear countless bills. They often share they don’t have luxury of time to read every bill they will review. Especially if they are newly elected, they often rely upon advocates to share what the legislation does (or doesn’t do), who will be affected and how.
This is where every advocate has the opportunity to be very effective. You know your community or organization and its people or mission better than anyone. This means no one…not even a professional lobbyist can tell your story better than you. Legislators are counting on you to do this so they can make an informed decision.
Your Partner in Advocacy…Kathy
#4 – I don’t know the issues well enough.
When I began my career in public service, the lesson I learned (and hopefully you will too) very quickly was I couldn’t be an expert on everything. I had to prioritize the issues I would advocate on and so should you. If you’re new to advocacy, pick one issue to get started. Or if you’re ready, go for two!
At first this focus made me uncomfortable because I thought I was missing an opportunity to communicate with leaders on a broader platform. But when I realized there may be other very good advocates working on the same or similar issues important to my community, it was likely they were already hearing from them and I wasn’t the only one who needed to do it.
Another reality check about focusing on the issues, came from a dear friend and former member of the Florida House of Representatives, Bryan Nelson. He told me, “If everything was important, then nothing was important.” Sound advice from an experienced politician who met with hundreds of advocates every year.
Through these experiences I discovered that if I focused on only a few issues each year, I became a much better advocate for two very specific reasons.
- I was better educated when I concentrated on only two or three issues.
- Those I was trying to influence knew when I called them what I wanted to talk about one of them it was important.
Your Partner in Advocacy…Kathy
#3 – Only the Experienced Can Engage in Advocacy
This is simply not true, so don’t let this excuse get in your way. Anyone can get involved in advocacy and be successful. Think back to when you joined your organization or ran a campaign for public office. Find that passion that led you to get involved or elected. You obviously did it to make a difference for others or your community.
You looked around and saw opportunities to bring awareness to your organization’s mission or perhaps improve the quality of life for those you serve. Whatever your reasons…these are the same messages you need to share with your leaders in the context of how they can help your community or members. It’s about sharing your story. In future blogs, I’ll talk more about how to share that message successfully.
Look back at the strategies highlighted in the last blog, you don’t have to have experience to do any of them. And while these may seem very simple, believe it or not they are some of the most effective steps you can take.
Remember the phrase, “Experience is the best teacher”? When it comes to advocacy, the only way to become an experienced advocate is to do it!
Your Partner in Advocacy…Kathy
#2 – I Don’t Know the Person I’m Trying to Influence
This roadblock can be the result of many things. If they are newly elected to public office, just appointed to oversee your organization, newly hired, or a new volunteeror board member, you may not know them very well or at all. You need to take steps to change this as soon as possible. A newly elected, appointed or hired leader creates some of the best opportunities for advocacy that you’ll encounter.
First, they may be anxious to learn more before sponsoring legislation, changing the business model or establishing priorities. Getting someone while they’re “green” can work to your advantage because hopefully they won’t have any preconceived notions about your community or organization. Helping them to understand allows them to make informed decisions.
If your leader is not new, it’s time to take steps to get to know them. Don’t assume they’re going to make that effort. They’ve got an entire organization of volunteers or district of people and leaders to get to know. YOU need to make it your priority. Here’s a few quick strategies to get you started:
- Send them a note to welcome them to the community or organization.
- Follow up with a phone call to schedule time for lunch or coffee just to get to know them.
- If your meeting goes well, offer to show them around and/or introduce them to the leaders in your community.
Since the foundation of advocacy is strong relationships, we’ll talk MUCH more about this in future posts. But these three quick, easy strategies are some of the most effective you can do to start building that relationship.
Your Partner in Advocacy…Kathy
When you work in or volunteer for an organization or are involved in public service, you’re life can get crazy! This is especially true if you’ve also got a family and career to manage. You have to find time and balance for the different “hats” you wear. This is not always easy, which means time for advocacy can seem impossible. This is one of the primary reasons people sit on the sidelines and don’t get involved. But what are the other reasons? In my next few blogs, I’ll highlight the seven most common roadblocks and a quick tip on how you can avoid them.
#1 – Time Constraints
This is one I hear frequently. Believe me I understand! Between work, family and your public life or service in your community, there’s often not enough hours in the day. So here’s a strategy to make sure advocacy becomes part of your regular routine.
Schedule time for it on your calendar every week just like you would a business meeting or time with your family. And by this I mean actually put an advocacy meeting with yourself on your calendar. It is best if you schedule it at the same time every week (or day if you desire), so it becomes routine. The important thing is to make it a priority and not let other distractions get in your way.
You can schedule 15 minutes four times each week, 30 minutes twice a week, etc. You get the idea. And if you do the math, you’ll realize your advocacy will take no more than 1 hour each week…maybe. Depending on your advocacy goals, it could take even less time. Additionally, just like you would prepare in business, think about what you want to accomplish during your advocacy meeting and create a brief agenda or to do list. That way you’ll stay on track and complete the desired tasks.
Your Partner in Advocacy….Kathy
In Florida, the 2018 state legislative session is scheduled to begin in January, 2018. This means interim committee weeks start in October. But whether you’re a Floridian or preparing for Session in any state, taking the Advocacy Test will help you identify any shortcomings in your own advocacy efforts. Once you’ve done that, you can take steps to address areas for improvement and ensure you’re ready to engage with lawmakers.
Each question is worth one point + a bonus question worth two points. Good luck!
The Advocacy Test
- If you know your legislator’s name(s) – first and last – give yourself 1 point.
- If you know their political party – give yourself 1 point.
- If you know their occupation – give yourself 1 point.
- If you have your legislator’s legislative office phone number in your phone – give yourself 1 point.
- If you have your legislator’s work number or home number in your phone – give yourself 1 point.
- If you know your legislator’s cell phone number – give yourself 1 point.
- If you know the name (first and last) of your legislator’s staff – give yourself 1 point.
- If you met with your legislator(s) at least once over the summer – give yourself 1 point.
- If you’ve met with your legislator(s) at least twice over the summer – give yourself 1 point.
- If you’ve sent your legislator a note or email congratulating them on their committee assignments – give yourself 1 point.
- If you’ve talked with your legislator about their priorities and how you can help them achieve their goals – give yourself 1 point.
- If you’ve provided your legislator(s) with a summary of your city or organization’s annual budget – give yourself 1 point.
- If you’ve sent your legislator(s) an email or note saying ‘thank you for your service” or “I look forward to working with you in the upcoming session” – give yourself 1 point.
- If you’ve sent your legislator’s staff a note saying “thank you for your service” or “I look forward to working with you in the upcoming session” – give yourself 1 point.
- If you shared your organization or community priorities with lawmakers – give yourself 1 point
- If you’ve provided your legislator(s) with a summary of any projects, services, made possible by appropriations received in the prior year – give yourself 1 point.
- If you’ve invited your legislator to attend a council meeting, board meeting or taken them on a tour of your organization – give yourself 1 point.
- If you invited lawmakers to give a legislative preview at a council or board meeting– give yourself 1 point.
- If you’ve attended or are scheduled to attend your county legislative delegation meeting(s) (applicable in Florida) – give yourself 1 point.
- BONUS QUESTION – If you’ve introduced your legislator to a person or persons in your circle of influence that can help them with their legislative priorities, or support their political campaign – give yourself 2 points.
Are You Ready?
• 20-22 Points – Congratulations! You’re a great advocate!
• 16-19 Points – You’re almost there…keep up the good work!
• 10-15 Points – It’s time to work a little bit harder…but you can do it!
• Less than 10 Points – There’s a lot to do so get started today!
Need advice or guidance? Email me your questions or challenges and let’s work together to get you on your advocacy journey to success!
Your partner in advocacy….Kathy
My advocacy journey began back in March, 2004 when I was elected to the City Council in Apopka, Florida. After beating a sixteen year incumbent by only five votes in my first election, I was successfully re-elected four years later, earning almost seventy percent of the votes. It was one of the greatest honors in my life to serve the people of this city. It is because of their support and trust I was able to find my passion for advocacy and build a successful career teaching others the lessons I’ve learned.
Having never served in public office, when first elected, it was obvious I had a lot to learn. Suddenly I was making decisions with a group of relative strangers that had much more experience than I. We were deciding on issues such as economic growth, measures for environmental protection, expanding our transportation network, improving our infrastructure and approving a multi-million dollar budget…just to name a few.
Advocacy was not even on my radar. However, it didn’t take long to learn how often decisions made by our state legislators had an impact on our city. That’s when I knew I had to get involved or at the very least make sure those I was trying to influence understood more about my cause. But success as an advocate required more than just a desire and a realization that something had to be done. It required a strategy.
One thing I learned the hard way when I first got engaged in advocacy was I couldn’t do it alone and I couldn’t do it without a plan. After a few years of frustration, finally I realized there had to be another way, which meant I basically had two choices.
First was to give up and let the chips fall where they may, which could result in devastating consequences for the people in our city. Or it could mean giving up millions of dollars available to help improve the quality of life for our citizens. The second choice was to develop a plan and do something about it! When I thought about this, it became evident this really wasn’t a choice at all.
But first, something had to change. I had to change. To become a successful advocate, meant starting over, admitting what I did wrong and learn from those mistakes. This wasn’t easy, but necessary. The good news is you don’t have to go through the trial and error I did! This book is designed to give you step-by-step strategies you can incorporate into your daily life and become a strong advocate for your community. All while balancing a career, public service and family commitments.
One of the biggest challenges I faced was understanding what had to be done to actually influence leaders. I naively thought that just because I knew them and they knew me and understood my city they would NEVER support any legislation to negatively affect either. Especially after I approached them at the beginning of the legislative session, pointed my finger and instructed “no unfunded mandates this year”! Imagine my surprise (and I say that facetiously) when that didn’t work!
But the real truth was they didn’t really know me or my community as well as I thought. And that was a wake-up call. I had to start over and redefine the relationships I had with those I wanted to influence, and admit they weren’t as strong as I thought.
And here’s another truth. Advocacy takes commitment and the belief that it will make a difference. If you don’t have both, it’s going to be a difficult path to follow. But if you’re at the point where you know you need to get involved but are ready to give up…hang in there. You can get that focus and commitment back to where it needs to be so you can be a successful advocate.
So here’s to advocacy and to your success…may they go hand in hand so you can be the leader who’s making a difference in your community.
Your partner in advocacy…Kathy