Relationships Reign Supreme
In the Post-Information Age, relationships are STILL KING.

This may be a strange post for someone who has worked in IT his whole career, none-the-less it represents what I have learned about effective advocacy and public affairs management over the last 20 years.

In that time I’ve found that most public affairs organizations have two things in common.

  1. They want to raise more money
  2. They want to get more grassroots activists.

Figuring out HOW to do these two things is a where similarities end.  While every association has a different approach, they all typically include, and far too often focus almost exclusively on some form of digital communication.  My experience has shown that the organizations that consistently hit fundraising goals and have armies of activists are the ones that put relationships first and use digital communication and information management technology only as a catalyst.

In my career as both a political operative and information management specialist, I’ve witnessed first-hand the progression of information management techniques in the world of public affairs and politics.  Some of these have been worthwhile and useful supplements to relationship development, others are kludgey solutions in search of a problem while still others have been used and abused way beyond their intended capacity.  How many emails are in your Inbox? 

While the information age has made possible a host of tactics previously unimaginable,  many associations have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. The push to take activism online has left many public affairs professionals too focused on digital and virtual communications at the cost of direct and personal connections.  This discrepancy creates a lopsided and impersonal approach to engagement the is heavy on blast e-mails and social media, and light coffees and meetings.  This phenomenon is nothing new as this 1990 United Airlines commercial suggests. While the time and industry are different, the problem and its solution are the same.

Obviously, the Government Affairs Director can’t meet all 12,000 members at the local Starbucks for a friendly chat. However, we’ve found there to be significant ROI  in focusing on quality of connections rather than quantity of touches.  Check out this post on the 80/20 rule for more about this idea. Essentially, it isn’t about building personal relationships with all the members, it’s about building relationships with the most active members.

Fortunately for this extrovert (ENFP), while I enjoy effective digital communication (duh, I’m writing a blog), I love and am fascinated by people.  I love identifying, creating, growing and sustaining impactful and intentional relationships in my own life and business and I love helping clients do the same. At Action Factory, we use technology as a complement to, not a replacement for personal relationships.

While Action Factory offers a variety of data mining and management services, and I’d be happy to talk to you about them 😉  there is a great deal associations can do themselves to better target efforts and effectively communicate with members.

Most states have public and online access to voting and contribution history files.  Knowing the political “footprint” of all your members can go a long way in helping you more effectively target your efforts.    In Ohio, we are fortunate enough to have a very sophisticated and robust online reporting system that houses contribution and voting history. is another great resource for nationwide and federal contribution history.

While there is a lot to be said for “micro-targeting” and other consumer level lists, you don’t need dozens of data points to get started.  Contribution history and voting history are very strong indicators of an individual’s propensity toward participating in activism and lobbying efforts.  These are the people you should focus all of your fundraising and activist recruitment efforts on.  Not some, not most, not a large portion but ALL of your efforts should be focused on this small but dedicated group of individuals.  Greatly reducing the universe of potential contacts allows you to dramatically increase the quality of the outreach.  While they are a lot of hard work, the eventual benefit of these high-touch efforts will create a smaller, but more dedicated and impactful activist community.

One final and, perhaps overly simplistic tip is a version of the golden rule.  How would I like to be treated by an organization representing my interests?  Would I want to be digitally badgered (no offense UW fans)  into filling out endless online surveys before the end of the quarter or would I prefer to develop a quality professional relationship with a colleague over time?  In my life, I tend to be there for the people that are there for me and in measures and manners similar to their efforts.  Fundraising and activist recruitment should be treated no differently.

So the next time you go to load up your MailChimp account with another newsletter ask yourself, what I am really expecting to happen here?  Then turn off your computer call up one of the individuals you identified in your targeting and meet her down at the local Starbucks.