Maybe things aren’t going your way on your campaign. I’m really sorry, buckaroo. Here’s what to do next:
- Interview people involved in the campaign, from volunteers to staff to policymakers to funders. Ask them how they think the campaign ended up where it did. What worked and what didn’t? If you interview people both inside and outside of your campaign, not only will you will get a good sense for what’s missing but you will also get buy-in from the people you talk to and they’ll be more likely to move forward with you. Invite lead volunteers to strategize and recalibrate with you, which in itself can be energizing.
- Walk back through the steps of your campaign plan. I know you wrote one because you can’t run a campaign without one, and if you get my emails I’ve even given you my campaign plan template. Did you frame your issue well? Did you build a broad enough coalition? Did you have the right messengers? Did you miss something that the polling was telling you, or is there another piece of polling you could do that would be more targeted to particular districts?
- Celebrate even the smallest victory with a celebration and a press event, get your coalition members there, and keep organizing.
- If your big win seems far off, work on smaller wins to keep people motivated and engaged. Keep recruiting and training leaders. That’s how campaigns build power for the big wins.
- Try another branch of government. If you’re not going to win in the legislature any time soon, try winning with another branch of government (executive or judicial), or at another level of government (local or county).
- Consider changing your ask. If you believe you have to change your ask, run your ideas past your most critical supporters like policymakers, funders, key staff and volunteer leadership.
- Set realistic goals for yourself. Accept that a victory might take years, even decades, and that your campaign may take two steps forward and one step back for a while. Make sure you’re working on something tangible and winnable. Try to take the long view that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did. Read his work and that of Henry David Thoreau and Emma Goldman or whoever inspires you, and see yourself as an heir to their legacy. Surround yourself with people who share your vision and those who believe that anything is possible. Do your part to train the next generation of activists, because there are some horizons you’ll just never reach yourself. Remind yourself that sometimes this work is like giving money to a person on the street who asks you for it. Will he drink it or smoke it? Who knows, but often what matters is your generosity and character in the moment. And if all that doesn’t work, call me at (202) 270-7365 and I’ll be your cheerleader.
- Look at failures as areas requiring more thought. You’re not “failing”, you’re gathering data.
- Find what’s hopeful out there. There are always things happening in the world, even on other issues, that can shore you up, if you can figure out how to find them. Just the fact that people have not given up on making change can give you hope.
Are you facing a setback? Have you overcome one? I’d love to hear about it.
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