Here in the U.S., we are deep in what seems like an unending election season. Overall we are seeing the huge influence of money, and the increasing divisiveness of American politics. However, yesterday we had the Iowa caucuses where grassroots retail campaigning still exists. This is a good time to remind ourselves of the important elements of successful campaigns that are transferable to our conservation work: brand clarity and message-discipline, campaign organization, and base-building.
There is a lot of noise out there. In order for your organization to break through the noise, you need to be focused, clear, and consistent. Formulate a compelling story about your organization’s unique purpose. There may be other similar organizations, but play up what differentiates you—be it a special landscape or a unique strategy. Make sure your board, staff, and volunteers know your niche well, and consistently communicate the same message. As new opportunities emerge, apply a strong filter to make sure that they are in alignment with your vision. The result is that you stay focused on the programs and opportunities that best serve your overall vision.
Next turn your attention to building strong and resilient campaigns. Leverage your assets—your staff, money, and reputation—but don’t spend it all on a campaign, leaving your organization depleted. Conservation work is a marathon, not a sprint. Manage your campaigns in a way that at the culmination, you find yourself in a stronger position than when you started, regardless of whether or not you were successful. End the campaign with even more seasoned staff and volunteers who are resilient and ready for the next campaign. Find new income sources and build greater financial reserves. Make sure your organization improves its reputation and increases its visibility, and that you strengthen relationships with partners and decision-makers.
Lastly, continually work to build a stronger base in your community. Some of your program work may be controversial, but consistently work to find areas of common ground. Consider community impact and how to involve community members in each aspect of program management from assessing opportunities and threats, to creating a strategic plan, to devising and implementing campaigns. Build strong alliances in the community and have community members who are acting as partners, working together towards your organization’s vision. Work your “ladder of engagement.” Take your activists and donors and develop them into volunteers, and then cultivate those volunteers into spokespeople, leaders, and champions.
Elected officials come and go, and no matter who ends up in office, we need to stay focused, develop smart campaigns, and build alliances to achieve our mission of protecting the wild places we cherish. Onward and upward!
TREC Executive Director