Three Ways to Give Your PAC and Grassroots Programs Staying Power (and why you should care)
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One of the revealing occurrences in our profession is the succession and transition process among political involvement professionals. It’s encouraging because it can reveal who was a good steward of their program by leaving it better than they found it. It’s discouraging when we find that the program was only as good as the leader; when the leader leaves, the program becomes less effective. I see this more with PAC’s than grassroots, but I see it enough that I think we need to examine whether we can create programs with longevity that last beyond the leader (and don’t get me wrong, the leader rightly has much to do with a program’s success, but that is an article for another time).
The book The Longevity Project by Howard Freeman and Leslie Martin shares the results of following over 1500 elementary school students to find out the habits of those who lived the longest. While you might think that their findings center on health and fitness, they actually point to other behaviors that determine longevity. As I read a synopsis of the book, I realized that there are several parallels for anyone who wants a grassroots program or PAC with staying power.
Why Care About Your Program’s Longevity?
You might be wondering, “Fine, Showalter, but why should I care? No one stays in one job forever.” You should care because the past is prologue, and what you do accumulates. When you covet the next great job or promotion, your reputation will determine if you are even being considered. And your program’s results are your reputation.
Here are a few of the behaviors that Freeman and Martin found bring about long life and I believe, political involvement programs that last beyond the current leader’s tenure.
Focus on the Main and the Plain
The researchers found that the people who lived the longest weren’t the carefree, simple-living, people who live in a mountaintop yurt and practice yoga 24/7 (I’m for that, because as many of you know, I am a mountain girl and like yoga in small doses). But that kind of lifestyle does not bring about more years. What does is having a goal and conscientiously working toward it, and following through with seemingly mundane tasks—the “main and plain” of your work, as I often say. Here’s an example.
I conducted a client focus group with CEO’s of their member companies. One of the focus group members said, “You know, I wanted to start an internal grassroots network in my company and I contacted my association’s staff about having them help us get started. We talked about it, and they said they would get back to me, but they never did, they didn’t follow through, so I dropped the idea.” He went on to elaborate on how discouraged he was by their lack of follow-through.
Most government relations professionals I know would get really excited about such an opportunity; they are begging for those types of requests because it builds the organization’s grassroots capacity. Even if this association did not have the skills to help the CEO establish such a program, why didn’t they follow up and explain why it wasn’t a priority?
The bottom line: Are you focusing on the main and the plain, are you conscientious? Are you consistent? Do you follow through? Try it, you and your program will live longer.
Give More to Live More
Next, they found that you’ve have to “give more to live more.” Those who lived the longest had a servant’s heart.
When is the last time you thought of how you could help a volunteer rather than focusing on what they can do for you or your program? Are you giving them acknowledgement, praise (when deserved) and benefits from volunteering besides “making a difference?” Give more and you’ll experience more longevity in your program.
Run the Rat Race
And last, those who lived the longest run the rat race---you read that right; they have grit. They tended to persevere at jobs they didn’t like more than once in their lives. The utopia of having their “dream job” was not the norm. Their reality was working in hard jobs that they did not always love, but again, they were conscientious and stuck it out.
So to review, they’re conscientious, they give more to live more and they run the rat race. Ask yourself if you’re doing those things in your government relations programs for a program that has staying power.