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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Article: Five Lies to stop telling while fundraising

Here are the five lies:
1. X% of your donation goes to the program
2. We can do the same program with less money
3. We can start a new program that doesn’t fit with our mission or strategy
4. We can grow without additional staff or other resources
5. 100% of our board is committed to our organization

This is a good list and good analysis, and useful primarily for the non-profit network. However the wisdom on number three applies to campaigns as well, where promising donors with peculiar fringe issue interests action on their policy is often a mistake. Read it and let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

Read the rest:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bad political strategy references

Too often when you hear people speak about political strategy, they invariably reference two people and two books: Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" and Niccolo Machiavelli's "The Prince", they are thrown about as the texts for practical politics.

Sun Tzu died 2500 years before the advent of the robodialer.
Asking "what would Sun Tzu do" won't help you in most
modern political campaigns.
For you, though, they don't hold many practical applications beyond fostering cynicism. These old and dated texts provide a basis for 'ruling' in the abstract, and a general discussion about theories that you might find intellectually engaging or otherwise interesting, but they won't guide you to success.

These lessons aren't applicable, you aren't a medieval feudal lord nor are you going to be ruling ancient China. Politics is too often compared to warfare, and it's a sloppy metaphor.

Let me also plug a past post here by noting that militaristic language in politics is always a mistake.

As I note in the book, the most valuable thing you can do is to develop needed skills within yourself. Planning and strategy often takes a backseat to hard work. Being an excellent fundraiser, writer, leader, speaker, recruiter, is a valuable skill more than someone well-versed in the strategy of how to work with the Medici family in medieval Italy.

Frankly if you want to better understand political strategy, identify and read the great thinkers of those on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Figure out and understand how your political adversaries think, what values they find important and why. It's not complicated or sneaky, and it makes you a smarter, savvier and more persuasive advocate for your positions.

Sun Tzu and Machiavelli are cliche, if you want to succeed in politics, hone your skills and improve your understanding of your adversaries. Avoid the temptation to become depressingly cynical by reading and internalizing these books.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rule of Committee Death: Don't Put Subjective Decisions in front of the group

Subjective decisions are not appropriate for a committee, or large group. People's personal tastes mean that, too often, no consensus will ever be reached. Or that any decision reached will be so bland and vanilla as to be counterproductive.

In political organizations there are often many subjective decisions to make, and yet too often the decision is left to our natural democratic impulses. This is a mistake and a major waste of time.
Robespierre ran a committee that actually killed people.
Most committees kill more slowly, a few hours at a time.

Decisions that are inherently subjective: aesthetic taste and style, choosing names, fashion, arrangements, layout and design, things of that nature. When your group faces such a decision, entrust it to one person who is empowered to choose something excellent. If you must involve a larger group, give them a simple yes or no vote ratifying the decision of another.

The Senate's role in judicial confirmations is the same: approving or denying appointments to people. They don't get to hem and haw, or create new rules for one person, they have to either give a lifetime appointment or not. This is a wise system for handling subjective decisions when you need a committee's input: accept nominations one at a time, and vote yes or no on each one.

Otherwise just avoid putting any subjective decisions in a group setting. It will often take one person an hour to make a subjective decision, two people will take two hours, three people will take four hours, four people will take eight hours, and a group of five making a subjective decision will never come to a decision. Consensus is impossible.

Make subjective decisions yourself, or delegate one person to make those decisions. You'll save a great deal of time as a result.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Backroom deals

Perhaps the most enduring stereotype about politics is that it's controlled by people smoking cigars in a backroom who work the system and are the unseen mover in electoral politics.

It's an enduring stereotype because it's true.

In every race, at every level, there are interested parties who have a small list of people they want to win. Sometimes they want them to win because they want to help a relative or friend, sometimes they do it for an agenda, sometimes they do it because they like to play the game. The reasons don't matter as much as the sober analysis that, yes, there are people who meet in quiet and "make things happen."

I don't say that to make you jaded or cynical, far from it. You just have to find a point of convergence, where your interests and agenda coincide with theirs.

The first trick is to realize who is really running the show.

Who is really running the show? It's often hard to spot unless
you look around.
Go to a few political meetings, take notice of who is the big-shot in the room, the person everyone wants to talk to or get to know better. Ask around, who are the people who hold a lot of sway. Sometimes these bigshots are people who control donations/fundraising, ballot access, media access or are simply influential because their opinion is considered important in your social circle.

Figure out who that person or group of people is, and become their friend.

Trying to advance in politics by fighting these entrenched interests is usually a losing battle, and often an unnecessary one. Politics is persuasion, and consider this your first big test of how to get ahead.

Identify the people who are most important to your advancement and seek their approval.

I once watched a state party election for statewide chairman where the fellow who was the most respected, most loved, most qualified lose in a landslide.

The guy never had a chance.

He was not a friend of the inner circle of people who made the real decision. This was never stated, he no doubt thought he lost because he "ran a bad campaign" or "didn't resonate with the voters" but really he lost because he didn't resonate with the inner circle, with the people who pre-gamed the vote and had it all sealed up before voting began.

Identify and figure out who makes the backroom deals and worth through them, not against them. Work to minimize needless conflicts and don't stop to kick every barking dog. You can do more as an elected official than you can as a losing candidate. Be in it to win it and not to lose on principle.

There are always backroom deals going on, figure out who those people are and find a way to win them over.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Using Protesting as a tactic, efficiently

The recent "Occupy Wall Street" offers a good current example of a common political tactic: protesting. Having a protest seems like a self-validating enterprise: just by doing it, it's successful. But as any participant and every organizer knows, five minutes into any protest everyone is asking, "why am I here, what's the point?" Displaying collective outrage is good in small doses, but if you want it to go on longer, you need to have a plan.

So let's discuss what that plan might be.

Every organization suffers if it's essentially listless and directionless. You need a mission statement, which we've discussed before, and you also need concrete demands and goals. The mission statement is your statement of timeless values, the first principles that motivate you, your intellectual non-negotiables. Your demands are the tangible things right here right now that could be changed to better reflect those values. If you are anti-war, your mission statement says that you hate violence, and your demands are to remove the troops from a foreign conflict. If you hate the United Nations, your value is likely either state sovereignty or local control, and your demand is to cut funds from annual contributions to the organization. Your mission statement is an abstract set of values, your demands are a tangible set of measurable actions.

In writing this I know it sounds like a formality, it sounds like a boilerplate thing you can just copy and paste from elsewhere, but you're shooting yourself in the foot to do that. Ask yourself, what values am I motivated by, and what do I want to accomplish? This doesn't have to take an hour, maybe you can do it in five minutes. But whatever you come up with, write it down, put it on paper, and use it to help orient your later actions.
Protesting just to protest is a lazy leader's way of
looking active. Tie your protests to your mission,
make the most of your members' time and effort.

Your protest, then, fits with that mission and those demands. Your protest can help grease the political wheels in accomplishing your demands. It's hard to make protests an effective use of your organizing time. Which is why getting into the numbers game is probably unwise, especially for smaller or startup campaigns and organizations. But you'll so often hear that "let's just go protest" that, in the right setting, it can be a good thing that energizes your people and motivates them, as well as bringing attention to your cause or campaign.

Every protest, every activity, should have concrete goals. Your participants should be able to say, "I'm here to bring awareness to [insert demand] because I believe in [insert value] and the people need to see that so [insert decision-maker] can do it."

Every single person should understand that's the reason you're there. You have a clear mission, demands and the collective consciousness wants that thing done.

Many major protests in recent years have tried a model of having no discernible purpose to their protests, just venting collective angst. The 2000 IMF protests were one example, and the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests are unfortunately falling into the same trap: failing to clarify goals and demands. To the extent that such goals can be assumed, it's that the current economic system is broken, which most people can agree with, but their demands are cloudy. And their identification of the decision-maker is also messy. And their identification of the decision-maker is also unclear. 

If your demand was to change the economic system, you're likely going to be able to do that only from Washington. Washington, however, is almost famous for controlling, stunting and dulling any organized protest movement. Even getting a million people out on the capital lawn doesn't really accomplish any tangible demand. It becomes a circus and publicity event of sorts, but one with enormous costs.

You want to identify a decision-maker, you want to find who can make the change that you seek.

If you want lower tuition on a college campus, even your university president likely can't deliver that demand, you'd want to focus on the board of trustees. If you're protesting police brutality, then focusing on the committee that funds and oversees the police is likely your best bet. You have to find, identify and focus your efforts on the decision-maker.

Let's look at a few comments from Occupy Wall Street protesters as to why they're there:

1. To remove corporations from influencing politics

2. To bring awareness to the extreme amount of corporate control of our government, and the associated collusion/corruption.

3. To install regulations that would keep the wealth of the country from being condensed into the top percentile of our population.

4. Redoing what Congress has been busy undoing for over a decade.

5. Lots of reform.

6. Get money out of politics.

7. Stop buying into the corporations, and try to do things locally

Only using the "Occupy Wall Street" protest as a convenient current example, these statements represent a protest that has become more social than political, more focused on involving disparate interests rather than on shaping the collective consciousness. Instead of trying to make a media splash by giving images of a counter-tea-party, a results-oriented protest could have and should have focused on one decision-maker. Focusing, for example, on the leadership of one of the investment banks who has become a billionaire through artfully channeling government power and displacing that person from power would have been action with results.

It's not enough to take actions. Actions don't mean that you're making any progress, you could just be running in place. Protests are not self-validating. Just taking the action can be a waste if it isn't done to support your mission and to implement your demands.

An upstart campaign sometimes uses a sidewalk rally or a corner cheering squad to build name identification in an area, and that's important because getting that initial name identification is critical. But for organizations and groups with limited time and limited budgets, protesting just to seem active isn't the most efficient use of your time. A protest is an action best served when it is in synch with your campaign or organization's mission and demands.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Politics and Principles and Pragmatism

If you're new to professional politics, you're likely motivated by pure ideals. You believe in change, and in the power of people to make a difference. You're involved for the right reasons. You have well-informed opinions on a thousand different policy wonk questions.

On the right, Pat Buchanan is solid on many issues and
values to the right, but is seen by some as impractical.
When choosing candidates, you can support
true believers but the trade-off is in electability.
And then it happens. You run into a campaign, candidate or organization that you can't bring yourself to fully support. They're bad on an issue, an important issue. You, the true believer, feels like you'd be selling your soul to help or support this person.

Take a deep breath, there are no wrong answers ahead. There are two paths, neither of which involves becoming a cynical establishment-type who only cares about winning.

PURITY STRATEGY - You can decide to support only the true believers, the philosophically pure. The problem is that these people are rare. Most politicians get started not out of policy passions, but from ambition, general good intentions and a desire to generally help people. You limit yourself, and many of the true believers are so focused on ideas that they forget about fundraising, management, organization. These candidates appeal to people who want immediate political results.

PRACTICAL STRATEGY - You can decide to support people who are somewhat more impure, but who are "electable" - but if you choose this path, make sure to identify the three main political issues that you are no-compromise on, the things that really matter to you. These kind of candidates are smart, savvy, well-funded, popular and perceived as "mainstream" - you get farther with them, but you have to content yourself to incremental gains and long-term strategies. These candidates lend themselves to gradual, incremental political results.
On the left, Ralph Nader is sound on many
liberal values and issues, but many
think that he's politically impractical. He's pure
but not practical.

Both choices have positives and negatives. If you are adamant about one over the other, you aren't considering the trade-offs. Neither is perfect, and there will always be frustrations either way. But you have to choose one, and go with it. One mistake people make is that they often confuse minor philosophical problems with major ones. That's why I encourage you to pick your three top issues and make those your non-negotiable principles, and not the entire ledger of 5,000 political positions you're interested in.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.