Advocacy for Organizations - Choosing Your Issue(s)
Without a clear process for choosing your organization's
positions on important issues, misunderstandings, confusion and
outright manipulation can threaten to nullify all your advocacy
efforts, or worse undermine the credibility and integrity of the
reputation you work so hard to build. It is best to have a
written set of parameters and a defined process to decide which
issues you will pursue and what your position will be before it
becomes a problem.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
- Theodore Roosevelt
Create a process. It is best to get buy-in from a larger group for
the initial decision, but have a smaller group develop strategy. Be sure
everyone is clear on the issue, position and general strategy from the
beginning. Not only does this avoid misunderstandings, but also you will
need their help to get it done.
Issues to consider when choosing an issue and a position:
- Does the issue/position fit with the mission of your organization?
You'd be surprised how often this is overlooked. Just because it is a
good cause doesn't mean it has anything to do with your mission. Beware
of losing focus and neglecting the reason your organization exists.
- Is there a unique role for your organization on the issue? For example,
a business group arguing for expanding safety net services.
- Can you
offer a solution? Especially one with a proven track record.
only working on self-serving issues. Too many groups only come to the
Capitol when their own funds are being cut. If a cut affects your
clients, you should be just as engaged in making that right.
Is this a long-term or quick issue? Do you have the stamina to stick it
out? Is this the right time for your issue? The worst budget deficit in
decades is probably not the right time to propose a huge spending
- Controversy. When considering controversial issues, is it
worth the flak? Is there a less controversial position that will still
make a difference? You may decide to go ahead anyway, but at least you
are ready for it.
- Don't join forces with others just for company. If
you are the only one on your issue, so be it.
analysis. Make two columns - who might help on this and who will likely
oppose you. Be realistic. This may take some research or some calls to
figure out. In making your decision, do not only consider the numbers in
each column, but also the strength of their support/opposition and their
relative power within the system.
- Relationship with the target. If
you have a great relationship with the chair of the committee that will
hear your proposal, you have a clear advantage. And vice versa.
- National vs. state vs. local issues. Where can you have the most impact
on real people in your constituency? Often the question comes down to
where are the money decisions made for your issue.
- Avoid controversy
that splits the group. Even a minority that disagrees strongly on an
issue weakens your organization. Unless it is the core of your mission,
try to accommodate the minority and choose another issue.
- Who else is
working on the issue? Are you really needed? Are you competing with
others for the lead on an issue? Will you ruffle feathers, bruise egos,
or provoke a turf battle?
- Politics and other baggage. How will the
politics of the issue bear on your organization, your staff, your Board,
your funders, your other issues, etc. This isn't only a negative -
sometimes it is wise to choose at least one issue with supporters from
the other side of the aisle from your usual champions.
the radar" test. Is this an issue that will be considered technical
or a no-brainer? Sometimes an important issue is easy. Honest, it
happens. You can sound out the likely advocacy targets and measure the
- Review your issues and positions regularly. Are they
still relevant? Have you won? Is it time to retreat into victory (= give
up gracefully)? Are more important issues pressing for your attention?
Has there been a change in resources or people?
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