"And the beat goes on......................"
This is a LONG message, and somewhat of a self-promotion. Believe it or not, I tried to keep it as brief as possible, but the subject matter is extremely important in my mind and I hope that you will find the time to read it and consider what we might do to finally become politically successful lobbyists. Our future depends on what we do in the next year or two.
As anyone who knows me can attest - advocacy and lobbying is my real passion. I wrote a book last year that Macmillan & Company (New York) has just published (last week) entitled: Hardball Lobbying for Nonprofits
I wrote this book as a "HOW TO" tutorial on lobbying - but found myself including an argument as to why nonprofit leaders should embrace this function. Here's a brief interview I did as to why I wrote the book:
INTERVIEW WITH BARRY HESSENIUS:
Q: Why did you write this book? What is different about this book?
BARRY: I found most of the books on advocacy directed to nonprofit organizations were too simplistic in that they didn't go into enough depth on how lobbying really works. Too often these works assumed that government works the way it is portrayed in high school civics textbooks, and that is not the reality. I wanted to offer the nonprofit sector a serious work that recognizes the role money plays in our political system, and how the private sector special interest groups impact government decision making; I wanted to give the nonprofit universe tools it could use to compete in the real political world, and to explain how nonprofits might avail themselves of the same tools that private interests do not because I endorse the system. I don't. I wish somehow that elected officials made their decisions free from the influence of special interests, but that is naÃ¯ve and ignores political reality.
For far too long, I think nonprofits have been the Oliver Twists in the political spectrum holding their little bowls meekly in front of them, begging, "Please, sir, can I have some more". A plea, by and large, ignored by decision makers because nonprofits are politically powerless and virtually invisible. I wanted to empower nonprofits to be political players, because I think they can be, and because I think they have to be.
The book started out to be a step-by-step tutorial in serious lobbying as well as an attempt to cover some of the issues involved in mounting such an effort usually ignored in other books on the subject (from how to finance such an effort, to how you motivate people to support you; from how to staff and manage an effort, to building a coalition within each community that will allow nonprofits to be competitive).
Q. How can nonprofits compete with deep-pocket special interest groups?
BARRY: Like it or not, money is the key to access, and access is the key to increasing the odds that any interest can impact government decision making in its favor. We're not talking about Jack Abramnoff and bribery we're talking about legal campaign contributions and how those who contribute have advantages over those who do not. We're talking about professional lobbying vs. well intentioned, but amateur, advocacy. The greatest single mistake nonprofits have made politically is the erroneous assumption that if they only make a convincing case for their value, for their needs, that they will win the day. That belief ignores the political fact that there are more good causes to support, more needs to be addressed than government has the capacity to meet. The pie is too small to satisfy everyone. We are a pluralistic system, and we have evolved (or some would argue devolved) into a situation where getting elected or re-elected is the primary job of every politician, and elections increasingly cost money. Lots of money. The teacher's unions know that. The prison guard unions know that. And both of those interest groups wield political power but they do it by playing the game. They do by digging into their own pockets to pay for a real lobbying effort. The nonprofit sector needs to do the same thing. There is no reason why nonprofits can't raise enough money to be competitive. Crying poverty is just whining and nonprofits have to stop whining. Arts nonprofits can raise a lot of money if all the performance groups will do one benefit for the effort every year or two. Environmental nonprofits can raise the money via online solicitations. We're coming to the tipping-point of funding for nonprofit political activity.
Q. What are the keys to successful lobbying for nonprofits then?
BARRY: First, raising enough money to mount a professional effort. Successful advocacy must include lobbying, and lobbying is a full time job that cannot be a volunteer, part time effort. Second, lobbying is about building relationships over time with elected officials. Lobbying can't be reactive to this or that crisis - a sometimes activity; it must be proactive and ongoing. Third, an effective lobbying machine is best built from the ground up on a solid grassroots foundation, not something imposed from the top down. And finally, to be successful at lobbying, you must contribute financially to individual candidate's campaigns. If nonprofits would make lobbying part of the job description of all nonprofit leaders, as important as fund raising and program oversight, and make the same time commitment to its discharge, there is no reason why nonprofits can't be as effective as the private sector. Indeed, nonprofits serve a public interest, they have a good product and story to tell, they have media sympathy and built in constituencies, and they are often able to recruit a lot of foot soldiers to support their causes something big industries can't do. But there is a legacy in nonprofits that says lobbying is outside the job description, often even thought of as unseemly or even as something that is illegal.
Q: Are you saying it's legal for nonprofits to lobby, to give money to candidates for office?
BARRY: Of course it's legal. You have to set up the right structures not only 501 (c) (3) organizations, but 501 (c) (4) structures, and PACs and 527 funds but done right (and lawyers and accountants can easily make sure it is done right), and nonprofits can do everything private lobbying efforts for giant corporations and industries can do. They can educate, advocate, lobby for or against legislation, and even support or oppose candidates for specific offices and they need to do all of those things if they are to have any chance to compete for influence in affecting the decisions that are made by government that impact them.
Q: Do you think a sea-change in the way nonprofits think about advocacy and lobbying is really likely to happen?
BARRY: I think it has already begun to happen. I see signs of it in numerous sectors of the nonprofit universe. I see foundations and private money more interested in trying to empower the nonprofit field to protect itself within the political matrix, more nonprofit leaders exploring ways to be more effective politically, more rank and file memberships rallying to the cry to become politically active. I see the internet as a major catalyst in transforming the nonprofit universe into a counter point to the private sector interests that for so long have held political power as their monopoly. I hope my book and the workshops I am offering are a part of what is going to be a dynamic shift in this country in the next decade.
Q: So you are talking about altering the very culture of nonprofits, the way they things. Doesn't that involve fundamental shifts in attitude?
BARRY: The change has already come. We're just talking now about what happens next. How fast do we move from square one to square four. There are a couple of critical variables to motivating people to shoulder new challenges and adapt to new survival techniques: One, you don't want to ask for too much, too often not everything is urgent; two, it's important for people to have victories early campaigns shouldn't be on lost causes. Once people win, it becomes easier to motivate them to change their habits, and winning is itself addictive. These are the kinds of lessons I talk about in the book, and what, I think, makes this book different than previous texts on advocacy and lobbying.
----End of interview.
I was fortunate enough to enlist some friends to write "testimonials" for the dust jacket of the book.
(These are basically when people say how wonderful you are and how great your book is. I mean, the Publisher isn't exactly looking for some truly "objective" critique for potential buyers to read, are they?)
Anyway, here they are (and I thank each of them):
"For those who want to begin a non-profit, I can think of no better guide and toolkit than Hardball. Government students should read this as an insight into decision making, as Barry explains how government and groups interact with one another at all levels. Hardball is definitely not a book to collect dust but one to get dog-eared, highlighted, debated and used." - Congressman Adam Schiff
"This is a powerful, provocative, and daring look at the ups and downs of fighting for beliefs. The book straightforwardly mixes together simple, clear definitions, strong opinions, new ideas, and in your face strategies, all designed to help the good guys win." - Robert Lynch, President, American for the Arts
"Hard Ball Lobbying is an essential tool for every nonprofit leader who wants to see systems change and public dollars flow to the causes they care about. The nonprofit CEO who doesn't have advocacy and lobbying as part of their job description may well be coming up short in pursuit of their social mission." -Dr. Tim Wolfred, Compasspoint
Barry Hessenius learned political advocacy the hard way, convincing the California legislature to multiply many fold its investment in arts funding. In his new book, Barry extracts the lessons of his long experience into a readable and impassioned tutorial that has broad application throughout the non-profit sector." - John Kriedler, Former Executive Director, Cultural Initiatives, Silicon Valley
"Barry Hessenius has never been shy, so this book shouldn't surprise anyone with its provocative and insightful thesis that the non-profit sector has to wake up and speak loudly for its interests. Anyone who knows the law and regulations surrounding advocacy and political speech by non-profits knows that it is a minefield of risk that needs to be approached with care and good legal counsel. But what Hessenius makes a convincing case for is that we have no choice but to get into the game. An excellent read." -Drummond Pike, President, The Tides Foundation
I wrote a Companion Workbook -- 165 pages of guidelines, checklists, forms, samples and other tools to use in forming an advocacy coalition (which I am self publishing) to go with the main title.
My mantra has long been that leaders in the arts (and in every other nonprofit sector) need to embrace the role of advocacy AND lobbying and include it as part of their job descriptions - every bit as important as program oversight and fundraising.
That, unfortuntely, is not the case. Too often, the job of advocate and lobbyist, isn't part of the 'mind set' of nonprofit leadership at all. It isn't even on the radar screen.
Here's an example: I got an email message a couple of months ago imploring the recipients of the message to rally to the defense of the organization (a small opera company if I remember correctly), that had just found out that the money it had expected (had been led to expect as a matter of fact) was not approved by the local city council. The group was frantic, as the amount available to it was not only far less than it had thought was coming, but was, in fact, a significant reduction in what it had previously gotten, and that cut threatened this small city organization's very existence. The email message urged the readers to mobilize and write, call, petition or otherwise demand that the local city council reinstate the funds or DO SOMETHING anyway about the crisis.
My heart went out to this group. Although I wasn't a resident of the local area, I sent an email letter off to their city council. But the problem with this email was that it was a plea for help in reaction to a crisis and that is a very bad way to approach advocacy. To be effective, we need advocacy machinery in place for when crises happen, because crises always happen. But that's not what we do. We react to crises and that doesn't work - at least not often, and not well.
Take the current attempt in California to support a bill proposed by Betty Karnette (AB 1365) that would transfer 20% of the income from the sales and use tax on the transfer of art works to the California Arts Council (estimated to be $30+ million annually.) On its face a very good bill -- no new tax, simply a transfer of a portion of an existing tax - to a government area directly related to the enterprise being taxed -- filling a clear need. Many in the arts community recognize this as the best attempt to move California out of last place of all the states in per capita support for the arts, and have rallied in favor of supporting the bill. The bill was on "suspense" in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, chaired by long time arts champion and supporter, Mark Leno and so the arts community recently urged those in the sector to contact Leno and urge him to move the bill favorably out of his committee. For whatever reason, he didn't do so at this time.
My point is that we would have more likely had a positive result if we had a real advocacy / lobbying machinery already in place; one that was widely supported, had a PAC as one of its components, and was an effort that had a revenue stream and a professional paid staff - at the level that would make it competitive with other special interest groups. We need to be involved as a PAC in supporting candidates with financial contributions. That is what differentiates real lobbying with amateur advocacy. And that is entirely possible if the field commits to that specific goal and, over a year or two, begins to build that permanent machinery. If we were a "player", I would argue that we would likely have had a different result in moving the Karnette bill out of Leno's committee.
I applaud the effort to support the Karnette bill. It makes sense. But this is the first real organized effort in California to support legislation aimed at re-instating funding since those funds were cut -- over three years ago. Why did it take us so long? If the NRA or the pharmaceutical industry had suffered a comparable major setback, would they have waited years before they mounted some new campaign to protect themselves? Not likely. And we can't afford to behave any differently. Can we? No, I doubt we are going to be as successful in raising funds as the teacher union or the correctional officers union, nor are we likely to be as powerful as the NRA or the pharmaceutical industry - but we can be "players" in the system to the extent that we can protect our interests and successfully lobby to win our victories - and that is NOT the case at present folks. It isn't that expensive and we can do it. We aren't, but we can.
We have proof: The Arts Action PAC Bob Lynch at Americans for the Arts started just a few years ago is a prime example of what can be done, and that PAC is still in its earliest stages. The point is it exists and political action can be built on its foundation. It has already established itself in the halls of Washington DC and has begun to have impact on federal issues. It will only grow more powerful if we continue to support it. We must do the same thing at every level - every major city, every state should have an Arts PAC. It takes far less money than you might imagine to have access to elected officals and to be effective lobbyists. The power is in like minded people banning together as a coalition and having their contribution allied with the interests of a given field (like the arts). This kind of political alliance is far more effective than if you gave the same amount of money to a candidate as an individual. Now some people will be concerned that their contribution doesn't go to a candidate with whom they disagree on other matters but THAT kind of thinking is antithetical to the way things really work. Look, for example, I think I have almost nothing in common with Republican Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee - nothing. And I am highly unlikely to vote for him. But I do contribute to the Arts Action PAC, and I think it entirely appropriate, should that PAC so determine, to give money to Mike Huckabee. Why? Because he supports the arts (perhaps the only declared presidential candidate to have a public pro stance on the arts), and THAT is the whole purpose of the Arts Action PAC. That's why I give my money to them; so they will find and support candidates who support the arts. Yes, "politics does make for strange bedfellows".
And let me say that the windfall line item allocation of $105 million in the Department of Education budget for arts education in this year's California budget will, without question, be under attack from any number of quarters in the future - groups and interests within and without the education community who will covet that pool of money and want to see those funds - or at least some portion thereof - moved from the arts to some other area. Groups and interests who will have political clout and lobbying machinery and who will use it to appropriate what the arts will now consider "our money" to "their" purposes. I guarantee that will happen. If the arts don't have some ongoing lobbying machinery far more sophisticated and expansive than what we presently have, then we are likely to be unable to protect that allocation and it will end up being a short-lived funding stream for us. No one should be surprised when that happens. Not if, but when. The system and the way it works isn't rocket science and it isn't a secret. Those who have power and use it, get more of what they want and need than do those who don't. Is that a revelation to anyone anymore????
If we want to be competitive with other special interest groups - this is exactly what we have to do. And we should ALL being doing it. Right now, not next week, or next month. And at ALL levels - from the city to the state levels, as well as at the federal levels. You won't find powerful special interest groups - unions or industries or the NRAs of the world supporting just federal or state or whatever level candidates. It's all part of one big whole, and we have to be involved at all levels.
And YES WE CAN, and NO IT ISN'T PROHIBILITIVELY EXPENSIVE or time consuming. Other special interests (and that's what we are folks - we are a special interest group - nothing less, nothing more) have done it, and so must we.
The nonprofit arts sector lies near the bottom of all special interest areas in its ability to effectively influence government decision making through its advocacy and lobbying efforts local, state or federal - short or long term. Arts advocacy in California characterized, as elsewhere in the country, by voluntary, part time staffing, participation by only a fraction of the organizations in the field, and wholly inadequate budgets and funding streams - is currently anemic at best. That isn't meant as a criticism of those dedicated and hard working people who are trying to organize the arts as advocates at the state and local levels, rather just a factual observation on the level of sophistication we have achieved in the area. The absence of a functional lobbying machinery available to the arts sector is a product of the field's failure to commit adequate resources to the effort (time, personnel, and funds); and the reluctance to make that commitment is, in large part, the result of an organizational cultural legacy that has relegated advocacy to a low priority, and has erroneously cast lobbying as outside the arts administrator's job description at best, and as improper or even illegal, at worst. Other nonprofit sectors are moving to establish real lobbying clout, threatening to leave the arts & culture sector further competitively disadvantaged.
At the heart of the problem in mounting successful lobbying efforts lie three basic principles that nonprofit arts organizations have yet to fully accept: First, advocacy must include lobbying - and lobbying cannot be an unfunded, part time, volunteer effort, with minimal field support; Second, sustainable advocacy and lobbying efforts must be organized from the bottom up, starting at the local level; and Third, advocacy and lobbying must be proactive and ongoing, not sporadically reactive to crises and changes in the political landscape. Successful lobbying is based on relationships with those in the authorizing environment and relationship cultivation takes time to develop and nurture, requiring ongoing, operational structures. Those structures cost money. Like other nonprofit fields, the California arts sector has adopted strategies based on the erroneous assumption that if it can only convincingly make the case for its value (economic, educational, civic), lawmakers will see the light and re-establish (or even increase) funding, and otherwise address the needs of the sector. That naÃ¯ve, misinformed belief totally ignores political realities, and has relegated the sector to being a virtual powerless sideline witness to the decision-making directly affecting its future much to its detriment and loss.
The demand for government to address the pantheon of legitimate needs and causes (at all levels) far exceeds the resources to adequately satisfy those demands. The arts are one among many, many special interest groups; no more, no less. The sector must accept that fact and act, as do others, to vigorously and continuously lobby the decision makers. Participation in the lobbying must be by the entire sector; the weight of engaging in the effort must be borne across the full range of organizations, not just by the few. There is simply too much at stake to continue to merely dabble in efforts to influence government decision making.
As was pointed out at the CAC meeting earlier this year by one of the panelists: Rather than acting like a $160+ billion a year industry, the national nonprofit arts field has ceded the power of its economic clout by its failure to engage in serious advocacy and lobbying efforts in comparison to other special interest groups. Heavily dependent on, and in desperate need of, public funding support, the net effect of its failure to act to protect itself has been to position itself as powerless and politically impotent, with the proverbial result of having reaped what it has sown. That is the case here in California.
I am working on a pilot project to build - from the ground up - real world lobbying machinery in both urban/suburban and rural venues. I plan on doing as many advocacy / lobbying workshops around the country in the next two years as I can, and hope some of you might help me arrange (and host) those. And I intend to keep pushing for our field to join all those other special interest groups that have moved to build real political clout and power as a means to realize their missions. There is no reason the arts can't be highly effective lobbyists at the local, state and federal levels; no reason we can't be very successful at raising the funds ourselves to finance these efforts.
I hope you will all join me and the many, many others across the country who have for some time been involved in moving our field towards being true political lobbyists. The time is right for us to make our move.
For any of you that might be interested in learning more about my book, I would be happy to email you a packet of materials including (for readers of this blog only) discount flyers on the book and the Companion Workbook as well as a brief outline of the Advocacy Workshop I am offering. Just email me a reply to this message. And hey, I hope a lot of you will buy a copy for your organization's bookshelves, and share it with your staff and board members, but whether or not you are interested in my book or what I am doing, I hope you will be interested in the idea of the arts (or all nonprofits, really) developing more political clout to make sure WE have the same access to decision makers that the well heeled private sector has.
Have a great week.