I’ve made one or two or maybe a hundred mistakes in my day, and have witnessed some doozies made by others. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned so you don’t have to learn the hard way.
1. If you’re an organizer, don’t work for an organization that has no organizing culture. You’ll lose your mind because you’ll be surrounded by missed opportunity. If you find yourself there, consider it a time to work in other areas and get new skills that will make you more marketable later.
2. I’m not a drinker but I see this one all the time: Don’t get wasted during a staff retreat. A former colleague did this, went back to his hotel room to pass out, woke up to use the bathroom, stepped half-asleep into the hallway thinking he’d walked through the bathroom door, and locked his naked self out in the hallway. Another time, my boss got drunk at a staff retreat and told me something I could sue her for, but I won’t because I’m not a litigious person and I like her. But really, it’s just not worth getting wasted at staff events. I know it can be fun, but what you do with coworkers is always on record. Like when you talk to a reporter, you’re always on the record. Period. Want to get crazy at a staff retreat? Wear a funny hat.
3. Embrace who you are. I had a boss tell me I was “unconventional,” and he didn’t mean it as a compliment. But there’s not much I can do about it, I’m a Jewish Buddhist vegan daughter of a circus veterinarian. I’ve partied with a human cannonball and I know how to fly an airplane. You can’t surprise me because I’ve seen everything, and know that anything can happen any time. Like e.e. cummings said, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
4. Know the difference between authorizers and appropriators. If you don’t, you may very well be asking people to fulfill a request they can’t grant you, or if they grant it to you it may be meaningless. Budget drives policy, and even the best programs won’t make a bit of difference if there’s no funding to execute them.
5. Not everyone will love you or your campaign. But people whose support you seek don’t have to love you or your campaign because you can usually get by with a yes or a neutral.
6. Don’t trash your competitors, because you don’t know when you’ll have to work with them.
7. Don’t obsess about the One Decision-maker. There often isn’t just one. Sure, one person might officially sign off, but people all up and down the political food chain influence the process, so don’t overlook them. City councilors and mayors influence members of Congress, and vice versa.
What hard lessons have you learned as an advocate? I’d love to hear about them.
And if you haven’t already downloaded these free guides, you can get them at the links below. If you can think of other tools that would be helpful, please let me know.
One of the biggest challenges organizations have is the campaign planning process. To help serve them, I’ve created a guide of the 11 essential points that I use with organizations, as well as with my grad students at Johns Hopkins. In it you’ll find the critical elements your campaign must have. Use this as an easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers.
- The 10 steps of power mapping
- The questions to ask and where to find answers
- Easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers
- What coalitions do
- Who to recruit
- How to pick the best coalition name
- Attracting diverse coalition partners10
- Leadership & structure of coalitions