The Case for Innovation in Advocacy

I am not an innovator.

Correction: I have been convinced that I cannot be an innovator.

If you were to play word association with advocacy, I’m sure innovation is not the word you’d come up with.  But why is that? Many associations insist that it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Yes, traditional lobbying, grassroots advocacy, and political involvement are effective ways of moving or defeating legislation.  However, what if there’s a way to make those methods even better?  Fly-ins are great, but expensive.  Political action committees are prohibited for many cases.  What does that mean for the in-house lobbyist who needs to convince a few key people to support their legislation?

This is why innovation is necessary for association government relations.  At some point, with all the competition for Congress’ attention and limited resources, the traditional methods will no longer be enough. We have a great opportunity to cut through the clutter and have our voices heard.  However, we must be open to using social media.  We must rethink the strategy of flooding the Hill with form letters.  We must be willing to look outside our rock stars and leadership for grassroots advocates.  If Congress can become increasingly creative in the way they do their work (can you say Super Committee?), why can’t we?

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Having a lasting impact

The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.
 – Benjamin Disraeli

The quote above is the perfect description of Reed Franklin.  Reed led the federal government relations office during my first six years at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).  On the surface, Reed and I couldn’t have been more different.  Reed was a white man born and raised in Southern Virginia to parents who later divorced.  He had traveled extensively and built up an impressive resume from Capitol Hill to some of the largest health care associations in DC.  He was a well-known and admired lobbyist within the non-physician provider community.  I, on the other hand, was born and raised in Washington, DC to parents who had been married for over 30 years.  I’d barely traveled, never worked on Capitol Hill and had less than 5 years of full-time work experience under my belt when I started ASHA in 2000.

Despite having nothing in common on the surface, we quickly developed a working relationship based on collaboration and trust.  Even though he was my boss, Reed was adamant about me participating in any meeting we attended together.  He would always say “Look, people will see us together and think you’re my assistant”. “I want them to see you as an equal“.  I was hired to run ASHA’s political action committee, but developed an interest in lobbying.  Reed nurtured that desire by allowing me to shadow him on Hill visits and attend coalition meetings.  When we needed extra staff on Capitol Hill, he didn’t hesitate to include me.  Reed was also supportive of my professional development.  As I completed my Master’s program, he allowed me to leave early or take time off if I needed it.  He made sure my dues to ASAE and the Washington Government Relations Group were included in his budget.

Reed’s mentoring extended beyond the office.  He encouraged me to buy my first home.  He taught me about wine (and drinking in general).  He tolerated my love for Prince and dressing up on casual Fridays.  After Reed left ASHA, we maintained contact.  We’d emailed each other on occasion, catching up on what was going on in our lives.  He’d always ask about my parents and how they were doing.  When our schedules allowed, we’d get together for lunch or drinks.  I last spoke to him in June as we were trying to pin down some time over the summer for a mini-reunion of our ASHA DC office staff.

Reed passed away earlier this week at the tender age of 45.  While I’m hurt by the loss of a great man, I take solace in the lessons I learned from him: To take risks.  To embrace what makes you special.  To do right by your members and most importantly, to never ever buy boxed wine.  As I continue to grow in my career, I only hope I can have as big of an impact on someone’s life as Reed has had on mine.  Safe home Reed Franklin, my mentor, my friend.