It would be hard not to have noticed just how polarizing politics can be these days. As society changes, some suggest as a result of behavioural trends influenced by social media, where the more passionate, and extreme comments and posts seem to drive conversations on-line, people are not ‘coming together’ but becoming increasingly alienated from one another.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the algorithms that generate and recommend content for us, often, increasingly direct us toward a narrower and narrower perspective, one we seem to be most interested in. As a result, we are tending to spend more and more time on less and less content, that is, more concentrated viewpoints that reinforce existing viewpoints, interests, beliefs, and, well, biases.

Perhaps without even knowing it, the people we associate with, the clubs we join, the groups we spend time with, have all grown increasingly politically homogeneous – tied to one or the other main political viewpoint or party.

Passion is still important

None of this to argue for a completely a-political approach to life, or that we shouldn’t feel strongly about issues and tend to identify with one policy approach over another. Not at all.

But, it is to argue, that if our approach to advocacy adopts the same perspective or approach, then our chances of success, in generating support, and, ultimately, adoption of legislation that drives our mission or mandate forward, are undermined, drastically.

When our sense of ‘community’ or ‘association’ is limited to those with whom we share a worldview, then civil society is deeply compromised in its ability to build a common good that extends beyond any limited, self-selected group.

As membership-based organizations, we know how important it is to represent our members’ interests – for any number of reasons, including the ability to improve our abilities to serve our clients and publics, to increase funding for important programming and initiatives, or to change attitudes that stand in the way of our members’ success, either as private citizens or as professionals.

Bring content to all decision-makers

To do that, most effectively, we must be able to bring important content and information to all legislators and decision-makers. Not just some, all.

Limiting your advocacy to only one part of the political spectrum is not only to make your job that much harder, it is probably to create animosity among those you are choosing to ignore.

The challenge is to suspend the political, and to truly examine what Advocacy is, absent politics. To appreciate all legislators and elected representatives for their commitments to public service, and to demonstrate that appreciation, as our first course of action.

Refine your message to resonate

Then, we need to refine our messaging, to ensure it resonates, as best it can, with human nature, and the innate sense of helping others in need, or to recognize that a person or persons is trying to improve themselves, and their profession, for the benefit of their fellow citizens, or consumers.

Once elected, it is the representative’s duty to represent the interest of their constituents, and we should seek to meet with them, and dialogue with them, on that basis, sharing, with them, our common interest and engagement in the civic life of our communities, and countries.

Good policy is simply good policy. It should work to improve a standard of living, or care, or future funding to create opportunities which don’t exist at the moment, but should.

Making our case on the grounds of a public interest, having stated our case, reasonably, specifically noting the resources and support we are asking for, and the benefits of changes to current or future legislation, or policy, is simply good, quality Advocacy.

Target your audience

That said, by all means, revise your messaging to emphasize areas of agreement with your audience. That is not to say change your message. But it is to ensure you are connecting with your audience by highlighting those values and ideas you have in common and working your presentations to make these points-in-common salient.

In advocacy, as in all forms of communication, personalization of content is key. You should never develop a one-size-fits-all standard presentation. Yes, there are core ideas, and fundamental ‘asks’, which relate to your mission and mandate.

But, every effort should be made to address your audience as personally, and as specifically, as possible, demonstrating you have taken that time, and that consideration, of their interests, and their valuable time.

Your members deserve nothing less than a complete, well-rounded, persuasive program to effect change, and that you should be ready, willing and able, to bring that message to all who could share, or perhaps should share, your concerns and interests.

Paul McKay

Paul McKay CAE, Senior Advisor, McKay Associates.
Feel free to get in touch with Paul through LinkedIn