Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees!
For political activists looking to change public policy in the statehouse or the county courthouse, the beginning of the year is the time to really hone in on your legislative program to make sure you accomplish your goals.
Yep, you close your eyes and envision lofty phone calls discussing strategy with your bill sponsor and being involved in high-end policy decisions -– carefully weighing option A vs B.
In reality, it doesn’t work that way at all.
That’s because while it is legislative season, it’s also fundraising season, volunteer/activist recruitment season, candidate recruitment season, event season (where you can add more names to your group,) and more!
Of course, it’s not always possible to get everything done in the time allotted to you -– but you won’t come anywhere close if you don’t take the time to prepare for what lies ahead.
Remember, the main reason that we fail in the Capitol is that we fail to prepare beforehand!
It is not the Diebold voting machine’s fault nor is it the fault of statist politicians.
It’s yours. It’s mine.
What Are My Priorities?
In my home state of Iowa, once the legislature is out of session for the year it is very hard to get people to get involved in grassroots politics. It’s probably that way for most of you, too.
We have a narrow window to work with.
So before the session begins each year, the leaders of the organization I work for carefully plan our legislative program and then work out a detailed plan to make it happen.
Of course you’ll be spending some time in the legislature working with your bill sponsor to obtain votes on your bill.
But you also need a concrete plan on how you’ll go about:
*** Fundraising; people are highly motivated to support or oppose legislation during session and this is your best time to enlist their help, if you actually get out there and ask for it.
*** List building; this can be done at events, online, or through the mail. People are more willing to sign petitions and get involved during the next couple of months, if you ask them to.
*** Developing Staff/Volunteers; now is the time to recruit new volunteers and test them out to see what they can handle so you can promote those capable of handling more responsibility, if you’re thinking about it.
*** Recruiting Candidates; when the legislature is in session attacking our freedoms is often when you’ll have your best chances of finding good candidates, if you’re looking for them.
You see, it’s a great time to capture a ton of new energy, funding, lists, and key people!
But it only happens if you have a plan to make it all happen, as people will not magically come and find your organization!
Jack of All Trades -– Master of None
Just because there are a lot of things you could do, doesn’t mean that you have the capability to do them all.
Don’t dabble at fifteen different things –- only to find out that you do none of them well.
The movement has far too many people in it who act like this as it is. It’s critical that you prioritize your time and make a plan.
Where to Start:
Remember that without lists, money, and people, you’re not able to be effective in the public policy arena.
Whatever you do, you need to have an eye towards building your list size so that whether you win or lose your immediate fight, your organization lives to fight another day.
One of the groups I work for, Iowa Gun Owners, places a high degree of emphasis on list building using some of the following methods:
1. Direct Mail; by mailing both existing supporters and potential supporters, we are always looking to increase the overall size of our list.
2. Email Communication; by constantly informing your members of what’s going on in the Capitol, you are keeping them informed and maintaining a fresh list that is increasing in size.
3. Online list building; a good way to add to your list size, whether through your website or Facebook, is by using online petitions which you’ll deliver to the Capitol either in support of or in opposition to current legislation.
4. Events; while normally a terrible way to raise money, events are a good way to grow your list size. For gun groups, gun shows are a natural place to do this. Read more about how to do this here.
Not all organizations are mature enough to implement all of these techniques at the same time. But you should do as much as you can –- always striving to do more.
Start with an honest assessment of your resources.
How much time do you have to dedicate to the session, how much money do you have to work with, how many volunteers/staff do you have to work with, how much energy do you have?
Once you determine the answer to these questions, break out a calendar and start plugging in time slots to work on the four things listed above.
Working With People Where They Are
Remember what we said in your training — you want to work with human nature -– don’t fight it.
Have a volunteer who hates computer work but is great with people? Send him/her to the event your organization is attending to gather signed petitions!
Have other folks who aren’t great with people but like the technology side? Plug them into your online program, helping to create and maintain your electronic petition gathering program.
Always remember that the buck stops with you.
If there is an area of organizational development that isn’t getting done –- you need to do it -– whether you like it or not.
Evaluations are Key
When the session ends, you’ll look back and kick yourself for all the things you didn’t finish or for the things you could have done better.
That’s good! Always be striving to accomplish more – never be content with where you are as an organization.
But at the same time, it’s important to take note of the things that you did well.
Write it down, both the good and the bad. Do it right away while it’s fresh in your mind. The process of evaluating yourself at the end of the session or year plays an enormous role in your planning and preparing for the next year.
(Learn more about doing a written evaluation here.)
You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to bite off more than you can chew. You’re going to be stressed and tired and just ready for it all to end by the time your session wraps up for the year.
By starting out with a focus on mastering the steps laid out above, and adding additional components as you are able, you’ll quickly develop a strong fighting force that will be around for the long haul in the fight for freedom!
For more specific details on this or to schedule an in-person training seminar in your area, please contact me directly.