Invert, always invert.
This is a quote popularized by Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s long-time business partner. This approach has helped Munger and Buffett think differently–to find valuable opportunities that others weren’t investing in.
Most investors buy and sell over the short term. Munger and Buffett buy and almost never sell. Doing precisely the opposite of the masses has helped create Berkshire Hathaway’s enormous profitability.
Inverting has become my go-to approach for trying to think differently about advocacy challenges. In most cases, our clients’ challenges are created precisely because their approach is the same as every other organization. They blend in. Their message gets lost.
Here are six ways you can invert your way to a more effective advocacy program:
Plan for the long term, not the short term. Most organizations claim to be focused on the long term. In reality, they are always laser-focused on their immediate legislative priority. Getting bills passed is good, but focusing only on that short-term goal takes the focus off of the bigger need: building legislator relationships. From these relationships, all victories flow. Caring only about the immediate need, the natural give-and-take that exists in a healthy relationship goes missing. Organizations become all take and no give. Passing a bill and not making friends isn’t a tenable approach.
Prioritize advocate communications, not legislator communications. Most conferences I go to invest 90 percent of their content in how to influence legislative audiences. Of course, this is important. But the bottom line is that most advocacy programs will spend 90+ percent of their time engaging their advocates. They’ll only engage legislators a few times a year. I’m a firm believer that if you build good relationships with your advocates, they’ll be willing to communicate with legislators in ways that move the needle.
Focus on process, not results. We spend way too much time establishing goals and far too little on the process we’ll use to achieve them. Again, don’t misunderstand, goals are important. Results do matter. But results are the residue of an advocacy program that has planned the daily process for how it will build the relationships necessary to achieve them. Process is the art of advocacy.
Make sure your program is advocate-driven, not organization-driven. Maybe the easiest way to measure the effectiveness of an advocacy program is to look at how many advocate communications originate with the organization vs. those that originate with another advocate. Advocates are far more likely to get (and stay) engaged with a cause when they have a hand in determining its direction. They are far more likely to respond to a call to action from another advocate than from an organization.
Invest in strategy, not tactics. It’s easy to fall in love with tactics. But the best tactics are meaningless if they don’t help achieve your goal.
Instead, invest your time in accurately defining your problem. Einstein is credited with saying that, if he were given one hour to solve a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.
That’s good advice.
Make sure you invest the time to accurately define the problem you need to solve. Create a one-sentence strategy statement that describes how you can take advantage of your program’s strengths to help solve your problem and achieve your goal. If you don’t have this one simple sentence, you probably don’t have a good strategy.
Deliver offline impact, not online. Everyone can deliver emails to a legislator. The pendulum has now swung so far in the direction of delivering digital communications, those organizations that can deliver advocate stories offline are the ones that stand out. Can you deliver stories through in-district meetings? Personal letters?
Please let me know about successes you’ve had inverting your approach. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.