If You Aren’t Spending Much of Your Time Developing These Things, You’re Making a Mistake!
If you have been involved in politics for any length of time, you have likely seen many activists come and go.
Oftentimes, when their legislative projects do not come to fruition in the first year, many well-meaning activists throw up their hands in disgust and quit.
Other activists are offered a ‘seat at the table’ — a paid position of some sort — and become part of the very problem they initially tried to fight against.
Still others, having failed initially, declare that politics is evil and corrupt and should be avoided altogether.
Whatever the reason, the reality is that most activists do not remain involved because they are shortsighted and focus on the wrong things.
That, and many are just bone lazy and didn’t think politics was hard work.
If you want to be able to effect real public policy change, you must have a long-term vision and focus on getting your organization off the ground.
What Really Matters!
It is foolish to assume that you will have any meaningful impact in the legislature in your organization’s first year or two.
It doesn’t matter how righteous your cause, how passionate you are, or how badly you want to pass your bill – almost no one in the legislature cares about you or your project.
You are just one voice in a building full of voices, almost all of which have more power than you do.
That’s why, as hard as it sounds, you have to understand that your primary goal for your first couple of years as an activist is not so much about passing legislation as it is about growing your organization.
You don’t have any choice.
Without an organization backing you up, you will flame out, as you can only run on adrenaline and passion alone for so long.
If you burn out, throw up your hands, and quit, then who will lead the charge in your absence?
Getting your organization off the ground, ensuring that it will be there for the long haul to fight for the issue you care about, is absolutely essential.
To do that that, there are three components that you and your organization must focus on above all else.
Your organization lives and dies based on the health and size of its lists.
Did you get that?
It doesn’t matter what your issue is or how exciting it is to you, if you don’t have an ever-growing list of supporters who want to fight alongside of you, your organization will die.
There are all different kinds of lists that are important to nonprofit organizations. Here are a couple of them:
>>> The voter registration list; which is a list of registered voters in your state.
Some states make it very expensive to get this, while other states give these lists away for free. Some states will include phone numbers and even email information, while others do not.
Some states will identify party registration, but not all do. But all of them will help you figure out who votes in your state and how intense of a voter they are based on their voting history.
>>> Your email list; the lifeblood of your organization.
Your organization needs to focus on increasing the size of their email list nonstop. Your email list can provide you with donations and volunteers, not to mention putting pressure in support of, or opposition to, legislation.
You can grow your email list organically, rent one, buy one, exchange your list for one from a friendly organization, and more.
However you do it, make sure you have a plan to acquire new emails regularly.
>>> Your volunteer list; a very important list to be developing.
Volunteers can help you stuff mailings, do ‘lit-drops’ in districts, run phone banks, help you staff tables for your organization at events, develop your website, design graphics, input data, and much more.
Maintaining a list of these people is crucial.
>>> Your donor list; the most important list of all.
Your donor list is the gold of your organization. Not only do you want to be increasing the size of this list, you want to work to keep it ‘clean’ at all times.
This means correcting typos, updating addresses, and adding additional contact information for your donors as needed.
The purpose of this article is not to teach you how to grow your donor list, but you must understand that without a donor list you will not be able to raise money and will not remain in politics long.
You need money to be effective in politics.
Naïve activists falsely assume that they can advance their cause without money because they are ‘pure.’ Some go so far as to look down their nose at conservative activists who fund raise to advance their ideas.
Ignore these people, they will be out of politics before you can blink an eye.
Without money, you cannot identify members for your organization through direct mail or online prospecting.
Without money, you cannot keep your members informed and active in your political fight using email, direct mail, sponsored social media, and more.
Without money, you cannot afford to run an election program to hold bad incumbents accountable for their bad votes. And if you’re not planning on doing that, then please get out of politics immediately.
Without money, you cannot develop a professional website, which is a requirement as you work to grow the size of your list.
Without money, you cannot effectively use Facebook for your organization.
(No, using Facebook properly for your organization is not free. To learn more about the appropriate use of Facebook, read my article here.)
Without money, your organization will not be able to pay staff and contractors — and please don’t tell yourself that your volunteers can do everything indefinitely.
I could go on.
The bottom line is that without money, the people in your state will never know about the fight you are engaged in, and will never be able to get involved.
The opposite of well-funded sellout organizations is not broke organizations that are very principled, but principled organizations that have the resources they need to mobilize the grassroots.
Your organization must fight for principle while raising money at the same time. If you don’t, you won’t last long.
Only the most arrogant of leaders assumes that they can do everything their organization needs to have done in the political arena on their own.
For everyone else, identifying and recruiting good people to aid in the work of your organization is a must!
Be they volunteers or paid staff, your organization needs to be on the lookout for some of the following types of people:
- Generic volunteers; to handle the projects and day to day tasks described above.
- Website development people; not everyone can design a website and fewer still can design a professional website that can be used to grow the size of your organization.
- Copywriters; writing effective direct response copy, whether you deploy that as an email or direct mail, is a rare skill.
- Graphic artists; designing logos, Internet ad campaigns, ‘click here’ buttons, and much more requires a competent graphic artist.
- Accountants and lawyers; as your organization grows, you will have a need for both.
Of course, this only scratches the surface.
A smart leader understands that rather than feel intimidated about the things they are not very good at, they should be focused on finding somebody who can plug that gap while they focus on the things they are truly gifted at.
It’s a Long-Term Process!
Hopefully you are starting to understand the magnitude of this task. You are not going to develop sufficient lists, money, and people right away.
It literally takes years, in most cases.
With experience, you will understand how these three things are part of a single, nonstop loop.
Your lists help you with fundraising, while your fundraising efforts help develop your lists. Bringing on new people to help you develop parts of your organization will also help you develop lists and money.
When you can properly focus on these three things — during the legislative season as well as election season — you are well on your way to having a permanent organization.
For new organizations (0-36 months old) or even older organizations that are not raising significant money — well in excess of 50% of your time needs to be focused on these areas.
If you don’t like that, too bad.
If you think that ‘reducing your political issue to the mechanical’ is beneath you and that your issue is simply too important to work on these things, then you will fail.
If you are getting involved in politics for the first time, I understand your passion as it was passion (a.k.a. anger) that got me involved in the fight for the Second Amendment.
But understanding that passion alone will not help you grow a viable organization is critical.
The conservative cause needs effective activists who will be around for the long haul — not flame out 12-24 months after they first get involved, as so many do.
By focusing on developing your organization’s lists, money, and people, you will be ensuring your organization has what it takes to be successful long-term!
If you need help in devising your organization’s plan to acquire these three things, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
I can assist you over the phone or even fly to your location to teach a daylong seminar to get you started!