Salsa Blog

Targeting your Advocacy Program

This blog post is part of Salsa's "Advocacy Rising" campaign. Learn more about how to grow and improve your advocacy program.

Even the US Chamber of Commerce, with its essentially unlimited resources to spend to ensure their agenda wins the day, focuses their advocacy resources on the decision-makers they need to move and the constellation of people who influence them.

If you’re not the US Chamber of Commerce, you don’t have unlimited resources and strategically targeting your efforts isn’t optional – it’s vital.

Whether your advocacy is focused on Congress, state legislatures, regulators, or corporate campaigns, the basics of strategic targeting are the same.

Know Process and Power Be sure you know in as much detail as possible the process for decision-making you’re working to influence and who’s most powerful at different stages of the process.

On the Hill, leaders of the majority in each body are the decision-makers on big budget issues; committee chairs hold the cards on most everything else.

In state legislatures leaders and committee chairs have the most power, but in most states there’s room for individual legislators not in the majority or a chairmanship to move an agenda.

Not all government policy flows through legislators, of course. At the federal level and in every state there are extensive bureaucracies that make critical decisions about regulations, funding, and more – decisions that can mitigate or complicate the policy context you care about. Most have formal decision processes that you can engage in, and leaders or groups of leaders that make the decisions.

In some cases the President might be your key decision-maker, and at the state level you may need the Governor with you. In both cases your real targets are probably leaders within the bureaucracy.

Don’t neglect local government, either, as a target for change that can make a significant difference. City council members, school boards, superintendents, and others are often far more accessible than their state and federal counterparts, and make decisions with real impact on your issue.

On the corporate side, knowing how decisions are made is no less important: do you need the Board of Directors to act? Is what you’re trying to change a CEO-level decision? Who has the authority and power to make the change?

Without knowing process and power, strategic targeting is impossible.

Power Map Once you know the process and who’s most powerful in it, learn who and what influences those powerful people: build a power map.

For elected officials at all levels the categories of people on a power map are fairly consistent: colleagues, donors, voters, cause groups, media, kitchen cabinet, and personal affinity groups.

Think of the decision-maker at the center of concentric circles.

For some decision-makers on some issues, the best way to reach them is to influence their kitchen cabinet – the people who recruited them to run, chair their campaign committee, act as informal spokespeople, went to elementary school with them, etc. Those folks would be on the circle closest to the decision maker, and your job is to figure out how you can get to them. Who on your list is positioned to help? Who can you partner with to get there?

If an elected official is in a swing district, facing a tough reelection, the closest circle in might be particular sets of voters (women, vets, small business owners, etc.) and your job is to mobilize as many of them to speak up.

Fill in the details of these categories to identify the pathways to your targets that you’re in the best position to influence, and the most important ways to build your lists and movement in specific geographies.

Be Honest I’m married to a state legislator. He ran and won on championing public education, equality and choice, progressive tax reform, environmental stewardship, and health care access and affordability.

No amount of power mapping, grassroots mobilization, or other advocacy short of defeating him in an election will change his votes on the core issues and values he ran and won on.

The same is true of every legislator and decision-maker: on some things, they’re not movable.

When deciding on your targets, be honest about who is with you, who is movable, and who is against you.

Target those who are solidly against you with an eye toward defeating them in upcoming elections, as a warning shot to wavering allies, or in some other indirect ways – but be honest in your plan and with your advocates about what you expect from your targets.

Target for Tomorrow, Too About half of current Members of Congress were state legislators before running for the US House or Senate.

That means they arrived on the Hill with a record, a history of relationships with constituency groups, and an approach to decision-making that will likely stick with them.

Even if your agenda is federal, it makes sense to work at the state level to build your power for the future – today’s state House member is likely tomorrow’s Congressman.

People at corporations get promoted, regulators build more influence within their bureaucracy, and local government officials build power and influence and often run for higher office.

Targeting your advocacy program to build real power and capacity not just for today’s battles, but for tomorrow’s is smart strategy.

Topics: Advocacy