I often see a nonprofit organization’s advocacy invested solely in an executive director. This individual does the testifying, the lobbying, the outreach, and the contact with members of legislative bodies and other elected officials. That person does everything.
While often a noted expert in the association’s field of focus, their expertise and experience may not have prepared them to manage a membership association. A lack of experience in managing a nonprofit may be irrelevant to those who hired the person, but it is very relevant to why so many executive directors fail to understand and deploy the true power of a membership organization to advocate a cause.
Sometimes that person is even an ex-legislator or important former legislative staff person. They can make advocacy appear as an insider’s game, causing members and officers to just stay out of it.
Sometimes these “one-person advocacy shows” are led by people so charismatic that officers and members idolize them, even as the organization fails to perform to potential.
The loss to the organization is that the collective local knowledge, experience, and network of relationships of the members and elected leaders go unused. The best of the best are never brought into the advocacy battles, as it’s a one man or woman show. The local contacts of connected members go unused, or worse yet, get used in a way that benefits only the paid executive leadership. Organizations operating like this are at an instant loss.
Consider the power of mobilizing an entire organization, drawing from the best of the best on any particular issue.
The most effective way to create an effective advocacy organization is to empower its members, officers, and staff. Organizations that do this become true advocacy powerhouses. Engaged members enjoy the notoriety of engagement in advocacy. It’s among the “benefits” of membership that help create involved, motivated, and supportive members.
Having a truly motivated membership is a powerful tool in advocacy, as all politics is local. Having a local expert testifying before an elected official always gets attention. Getting attention gets results.
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Rudolph Rosen, Ph.D. is author of Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraising Published by Texas A&M University Press.
(c) Rudolph Rosen, 2014