Applying Back to School Enthusiasm to Advocacy

Some people are all about the new year's resolutions, but for me I get that hankering for renewal and self-betterment around September. I'm pretty sure it's a "Back to School" thing, because, well, I was one of "those kids" in school. You know the type. At the beginning of every school year I would vow, emphatically no less, that this was the year I would get straight A's, meet the right guy, stay awake during chemistry class ? you fill in the blank. Yet even after 40 years of life, I'm still all surprised when, in late August / early September, I start thinking to myself "hey, this is the year I'm going to start a podcast, write every day in my blog, finish that book, finally achieve world peace?" You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but really, not so much.

This year, I figure it's time to capitalize on all those back-to-school feelings by figuring out ways to be better organized, more productive and more inspired for the year ahead. Whether it's 'back-to-school' or 'back-to-legislating,' following are some thoughts on how to take advantage of that feeling of rejuvenation that comes for many of us with September. 1. Clean out the junk: When I start cleaning useless items out of my house, as I did this weekend, I know I have a really bad case of the "back-to-schools." We all can take advantage of that feeling, though, by thinking about how we can "clean the junk" out of our grassroots program.

Now's the time to take old action alerts off your site, update your legislative outline and clean up your network e-mail list. You'll be far better prepared to deal with any unexpected pop quizzes the legislature throws at you if you have all the clutter removed from your system. 2.

Get the right supplies: For many years I was convinced that the right binder would solve all my education woes. I'm sure that kids these days don't even use binders anymore, but the sentiment is the same. Basically, you'll want to start the fall advocacy season with the right supplies.

These range from concrete resources, such as subscriptions to useful journals and newspapers, to human resources, including the right grassroots advocates in the right places at the right time, to the technological, including e-mail distribution lists and online action alert generators. 3. Have a plan ? and stick to it!: At the beginning of each school year I would carefully plan out my schedule, from my goals for the school year to when I would get my homework done.

Start your fall advocacy efforts off right by having (or revising) a concrete plan of what you want to get accomplished through the end of the year. Sure, that may have to shift as the legislative calendar changes, but it's almost always better to start out with some clear idea of what you want to accomplish and your plans for getting there. If you already have a plan, think about the ways in which you might need to revise it given any changes that have occurred over the last couple months.

Oh, and be sure to stick to it! Revisit your goals and plan every month or so to see if you're on track or, if not, what you might change to get there. 4. Build your network: Kids these days wouldn't even imagine going to school without a MySpace or Facebook profile. Fortunately, these tools aren't just for the young anymore! Check out some tips for setting up a MySpace page, where you can post information about your advocacy efforts, utilize cool tools like blogs and picture sharing, and find like-minded people. Another option in the business / association world is LinkedIn, where you can find friends and friends of friends for business networking purposes. 5.

Be creative: Make the most of all that extra energy you have in the fall by trying out some new and creative approaches to advocacy. Been thinking about a blog? Now might be the time to start one. One great resource for exploring blogs is ProBlogger.net, which offers insights for beginners and old pros alike on starting and maintaining a blog. How about a podcast? You can learn how through this article on How to Start a Podcast. I even took my own advice and started a podcast.

The point here is to indulge those "creative urges," you may find that you're just as hip as any high-schooler. To paraphrase Dickens, your goal should be to "keep the spirit of 'back-to-school' in your heart throughout the year," (that was originally about Scrooge and Christmas, but you get the drift). Who knows? With a little planning and perseverance, this may finally be the year you get straight A's in advocacy.

Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru at Advocacy Associates, works with associations and businesses that want to influence public policy using effective advocacy techniques. You can learn more about her at http://www.advocacyguru.com

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