I Heart Detroit

One of the highlights of being a DELP scholar is our annual reunion. For most of us,  it’s the only opportunity we have to see each other and immerse ourselves in all things DELP. No matter how large our group gets or how unique our experiences are, there’s been one constant in my seven (!) years as a DELPer:  Detroit.

The Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau supports ASAE’s Diversity Executive Leadership Program. Every summer, we travel to Detroit for a weekend filled with learning and fun. It’s become one of my favorite annual trips. Now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Detroit?” The same city that filed for bankruptcy? The same place with the high crime and unemployment rates? Yes, but if that’s all you know about this Midwestern city in Michigan, then you’re missing the big picture.

Yes, Detroit has its challenges. However, look beyond the bankruptcy and abandoned buildings and you’ll see beautiful hotels, parks and public art displays. You’ll see a great new convention center. You’ll see people dedicating their time and talent to rebuild this city. When I see Detroit, I see progress. I’m a native Washingtonian. I remember the years when the downtown area was desolate. Stores closed. Businesses moved to the suburbs or other parts of the city. Buildings laid vacant. And then, you saw the resurgence. The Verizon Center. New restaurants, hotels and stores. Businesses moving back to the area. What I saw in DC is what’s happening now in Detroit. With nurturing, guidance, and investments, I believe in the comeback that is The D.

So, thank you Detroit for not only being a gracious host to DELP every year, but also showing us what a bright future looks like.

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Welcome DELP newbies

Congratulations to the DELP class of 2014-2016! Soon you will meet in DC to receive a formal orientation on all things DELP and ASAE. Afterwards, your class will travel to Detroit to meet your fellow DELPers for our annual reunion. There will be some laughs, some happy tears, some learning and a lot of fun! Before we get there, let me share a few words of wisdom with you.

1. DELP is what you make it. Give some thought to what you want the next two years and beyond to look like. Do you have a specific career goal in mind? Do you aspire to ASAE leadership? Whatever it is, put yourself in the mindset to take advantage of every opportunity presented to you through DELP.

2. To Whom Much Is Given, Much Will Be Required. You will gain so much from DELP: professional development, networking opportunities, and new contacts just to name a few. As DELP scholars, we are to volunteer on boards and committees; write for ASAE and other publications; present at conferences and offer their time and talents as needed.

3. Prepare to have your life forever changed. You may think you just applied for a professional development program. You didn’t. You joined a family of high achievers who look out for each other. We bring out the best in each other. When one succeeds, we all succeed. By the end of the weekend, you will gain over 100 brothers and sisters who will understand your challenges and help you find solutions.

So newbies, get ready. This is the start of a long, successful journey. See you in The D!

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Lobbying is changing

The Washington Post recently published an article about the changing landscape of lobbying. The article highlighted lobbying firms in the DC area who are shaking up their approach to Capitol Hill. One group models their operation after tech companies including open workspaces and compensation structure. Another ended the practice of billable hours. One firm uses social media to highlight important issues. For lobbying firms with traditional corporate structures, hierarchies and big corner offices, these examples are somewhat radical. However, they speak to a new reality: Lobbying is changing. What can the association government relations community learn from these examples?

Don’t be afraid to try new things

Holland and Knight is a law firm with over 1,000 lawyers and lobbyists working across the US and around the world. Like many law firms with a lobbying practice, lobbyists must keep track of billable hours. In 2012, Holland and Knight eliminated that practice in their public policy shop. This gave their lobbyists the freedom to work with their clients without fretting over time sheets and other administrative matters. While associations don’t have to worry about billable hours, there are others structures in place that limit your lobbyists’ work including a culture of department silos.

Stop pretending that social media doesn’t matter

Chamber Hill Strategies is a Small Business Administration-certified women-owned (!) lobbying firm. During a recent advocacy campaign, one of the co-founders approached congressional staff with a simple ask: bring attention to a specific issue using Twitter. Days later, a Member of Congress tweeted a message to his 2400+ followers. While this tactic may not work for everyone and every issue, it once again demonstrates the value of social media for advocacy.

 

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Be a mental health advocate

I'm Blogging for Mental Health.

As most of you know, I’m a lobbyist for a membership association representing mental health professionals. I love what I do and more importantly, I love the issues that I work on. Mental health is not an easy topic to discuss especially on Capitol Hill.  It’s a fact that our current mental health system needs improvement. However, there’s disagreement in Congress on the best course of action. Is it more funding? More providers? More research? Beyond that, the stigma still exists around mental health doesn’t make it the sexiest topic in Congress. So why should we advocate for mental health? Because if we don’t, no one else will.

If you have seen a psychologist or another mental health professional, think about those who don’t access to a provider or the funds available to cover the cost of seeing one. For families coping a severe mental illness, think about the prospects of not having support systems in place or even a facility to get treatment. These are the stories Members of Congress need to hear.

There are no easy answers or quick fixes when it comes to addressing the needs of our mental health system. Legislation is only one way to provoke change. However, with May being Mental Health Awareness Month, this is a great opportunity to tell Congress to work with us to improve the lives of those with mental illness.

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In appreciation of the intern

I’ve worked for my current employer for over four years now and there’s been one constant throughout that time: our interns. Our public policy internship program is a paid internship for two psychology graduate students to work in our Public Interest Government Relations office in DC. The interns spend one year with us learning how psychological research can be applied to public policy. The internship exists because there’s very little programming that addresses public policy and advocacy in psychology doctoral programs. Some of the interns who apply for this position express an interest in policy while others see this as an opportunity to step outside the world of academia.

I’ve worked with 10 interns now and I can say without a doubt these young men and women have become valuable members of our team. When we need a document turned around in 2 hours, it’s been accomplished within an 1/2 hour. When we need someone to attend a meeting because everyone else was busy, they step in without hesitation. When we had to have folders delivered to every Senate office, the interns jumped at the chance. They want to learn more and offer assistance as needed.

This is not to say that mistakes haven’t been made. Many of our interns never worked in an office and lacked many of those basic skills. Even though they were earning a doctorate in psychology (not an easy task), a few needed a bit more handholding than others. I’ve learned a lot about my own management style and saw areas for growth and improvement.

Our year-longs (our nickname for the interns) will be wrapping up their time with us in August. They’ve been a great help to us during a year of transition for our team. I don’t think I could get half of my daily to-do list accomplished if it wasn’t for these future psychologists. If you have an intern in your office who’s done some really great work for you, take a moment to thank them. I’m sure they will appreciate it.

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Congressional testimony tips from Seth Rogen

Last month, actor Seth Rogen testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee to ask for more research funding for Alzheimer’s disease. Organizations are well aware that star power sells and having a celebrity spokesperson can help bring attention to your cause. In fact, Ben Affleck was also on Capitol Hill that same day giving testimony. However, no one seemed to care because Rogen’s opening statement was the talk of Capitol Hill. In fact, two days after his appearance, CSPAN reported that video of Rogen’s testimony was their 3rd most watched video EVER. What lessons can associations learn from this experience?

1. You have to use the right member. Sure, Seth Rogen is a celebrity and celebrity = attention. However, celebrity does not guarantee that someone can articulate personal experiences and connect them to legislative requests. Heck, celebrity doesn’t even guarantee that someone can read. While your association may not have a Seth Rogen at their disposal, you do have members who are knowledgeable about the issues and can articulate them in a way that engage and inform.

2. Once you find the right member, prep them for the congressional experience. If you have watched the congressional hearing, you may have noticed that not all of the committee members were present. This did not sit well with Seth as he took to Twitter openly asking why this hearing was so poorly attended by members of Congress. In hindsight, I wished the organization he was working with would’ve filled him in on what a typical day on Capitol Hill is like. Wednesdays are usually the busiest day on the Hill. At any given moment, there are floor debates, hearings, meetings with constituents, and other activities occurring simultaneously. While it would be great for members of Congress to be present at every hearing, that’s just not possible. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. If anything, this presents a great opportunity for Seth and the advocacy organization to continue their congressional outreach.

3. Humor works. Seth Rogen is funny. Alzheimer’s is not. And yet, here was this comedic actor who was able to translate humor into an ask for more research dollars to fight the disease his mother-in-law is battling. A little levity when faced with these challenging issues is appreciated by those advocating for these issues as well as the legislators who are faced with making tough choices in a difficult economy.

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You are worthy

leading association lobbyist award

Last week, I was among the honorees of Association Trends’ 2014 Salute to Association Excellence. For those not familiar, the ceremony honors those who have contributed their time and talent to the association community. I was among 7 who received the 2013 Leading Association Lobbyists of the Year award. Normally, I’d try to downplay receiving such a distinguished honor. And then I remembered something my mom said to me recently. “You spent many years with your head in books and at the library. If someone wants to give you an award, don’t say no, say thank you.”

The Leading Association Lobbyists Award means a lot to me for a number of reasons. First, I was nominated for this award. Self nominations are not accepted. Second, I was among a group of association lobbyists doing exceptional work in the community. Finally, I finally saw in myself what others have been telling me for years: you are worthy.

Too often, we see ourselves as unworthy of awards and accolades. A common line uttered at every red carpet for the Academy Awards is “it’s an honor just to be nominated.” That’s true. But let’s be honest with ourselves. If we’re good enough to be nominated, why can’t we accept the truth that we want to be awarded as well? There’s nothing wrong with someone telling you that you’re good at what you do. If we regularly accept bonuses and merit salary increases, then we can also accept a nice piece of crystal from our peers. It’s time to stop convincing ourselves that we are frauds. Instead, start accepting the fact that yes, we are worthy.

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