With the beginning of baseball season, I am reminded that there is no off season for a winning advocacy effort. So, as the Maryland General Assembly completes its work on April 8, now is the time to prepare for the 2014 season!
Any winning advocacy effort has at its foundation the "Four Ps." You must be Pleasant, Purposeful, Persistent, and Passionate. And, a really smart advocate knows there is a "fifth P" -advocacy is like parenting because your job is never done. So, once the session comes to an end get some rest, maybe take in an Orioles game, and gear up for the season ahead.
It should seem obvious what it means to be pleasant. But, so often today with our hectic schedules we seem to let our "Emily Post" fall to the wayside. Always take the time to say please and thank you. Don't let your passion for an issue get the best of you-"be calm and carry on!" Use the spring to take time to thank the staff and elected officials you worked with during the session.
Know what you want and ask for it. So many caring and passionate advocates will make a compelling case on a policy matter or budget issue and fail to close the deal. Why--because they don't clearly articulate a specific request or they simply don't ask. First rule of politics- you don't ask, you don't get. Also don't assume a long time proponent knows your needs as well as you do. Elected officials are inundated with requests and are expected to make decisions about a multitude of policy and budget matters. Make it easy for them to help you. If they have to do research or read a lengthy policy paper, your request is likely to end up on the bottom of a "to do" list. Make your case-be clear and concise. Make your ask-simple and definitive.
During the summer months craft your legislative agenda. Get input from stakeholders and potential sponsors. Clarify your needs and hone your message.
Even the best players strike out. Babe Ruth known as the "Sultan of Swat" led the American League in strikeouts five times. Setbacks just provide you the opportunity to reframe your message or modify your ideas to fit within a policy discussion that has currency. Do your post-session "stats" analysis-did you garner more votes this session, pick up more sponsors or get a portion of the bill got adopted? Use this analysis to chart your course for next session. A series of small victories can lead to meaningful and lasting change.
You must be the most enthusiastic fan for your issue. Demonstrate-ooze- your commitment to the issue or policy. How? Remember the old adage- facts tell and stories sell! Certainly, any serious effort must be backed by data-data buys you credibility. But, stories linger and last. Connect lawmakers to the issue directly through meaningful stories that get to essence, the heart of an issue. During the fall start assembling telling data and find the stories that will make your issue resonate with decision-makers.
Advocacy is like parenting-it's a year round job!
Advocacy in Maryland like in any other state is a 365 days of the year job-not just the 90 days of the Maryland General Assembly session. Start now to enhance your knowledge about decision-makers, build your relationships with your lawmakers and make new friends. Bring lawmakers to your company to see the work you do. Celebrate success with decision-makers. Ask them for certificates or proclamations to recognize your good work. Invite the executive branch staff or lawmakers for tours, to participate in panel discussions or to speak to your organizations. Go find new partners who share your passion for your issue and begin to work together.
Every sports team knows you win ballgames with preparation in the off session. Start brainstorming ideas today and begin implementation on April 9-well perhaps May 1 will do! The 2014 session is really just around the corner! Until then, see you at Camden Yards!
Susan Cottle Madden is the Chief Government Relations Officer for Montgomery College-Maryland's largest community college. Her career has included work in Maryland House of Delegates, for Montgomery County and on the staff at the Montgomery County Council along with political campaign experience.