As part of their Advocacy Rising program, the good folks at SalsaLabs asked me to contribute the piece below, which first appeared on Salsa Commons. One thing I left out — nonprofits have to be careful what they say in an election year if they mention candidates. The exact rules depend on your IRS nonprofit status (i.e., which flavor of nonprofit you are), so check with the lawyers early on so that you know the ground rules. While you’re waiting to hear back from them, be sure to check out our in-person discussion on Thursday.
Riding an Electoral Wave: How Election-Year Politics Can Promote Your Issues
It’s an election year! With a gridlocked Congress! Doesn’t leave much room for issue-advocacy, right? Wrong: the long months of politicking in a presidential election year can actually give advocacy organizations great opportunities to boost the prominence of their issues — BUT only if they’re ready.
The Media Dynamic
Perhaps you’ve noticed that political coverage has certain dynamic, one that might be described as lemming-like. I.e., at any given point in the campaign, political reporters tend to cluster around a relatively small number of stories that themselves constantly change. One week it’s Newt Gingrich’s jewelry purchases, another it’s Mitt Romney’s apparent joy at firing people, but don’t worry — reporters will eventually circle around to Barack Obama’s birth certificate so he won’t feel lonely. What unifies most of these stories is that they’re ephemeral: they blow up big one week (or day or hour) and are nearly forgotten the next. Though collectively they gradually come to define the candidates, few stick around long enough to matter much on their own. Another common characteristic: they’re very much in-the-moment, driven by gaffes, attacks and other immediate developments in the campaigns, and hence difficult to predict in advance.
Ironically, the speed with which these stories brew up can actually work to advocacy organizations’ advantage. Reporters and bloggers won’t be experts in most of the issues involved, so they’ll be scrambling to get information to fill out their stories. And if you’re ready when one of your issues pops, YOU can be the beneficiary of their ignorance/hunger for content. Here’s what you’ll need to take advantage of the election-year media dynamic to promote your issues and connect with new supporters.