Six questions

Six questions to ask about any proposed campaign

Paul Ryder, Organizing Director
January 20, 2000

1. Who, if anyone, cares about this issue? How do you know? How much do they care? Enough to be already doing something about it?

If the issue comes from the staff, if it's just your pet issue or something you have deduced, it's likely you will end up arm-twisting members and allies. At best, they will say OK and then put it at the bottom of their priority list.

Internal discussions are necessary, of course, but the key is to get outside the organization and outside the usual circles. Talk to your relatives and neighbors. Talk to people and groups you do not already know, people waiting for the bus, people on the bus.

2. What is the strategy?

If you only want to "fight the good fight," you do not need a strategy. If, however, you want to win, you need to figure out how.

A list of planned activities is not by itself a strategy. A strategy must identify the opportunity you have to win, and describe how you will concentrate your strengths to take advantage of the opportunity.

  • Identifying a strategy is part of choosing a campaign. Why pick a campaign for which you cannot imagine a strategy?
  • The strategy should be compelling: easily described to others in a way that makes them convinced and excited.
  • A good strategy does not limit itself to one way of winning. It is a course of action, a single line of operation, that offers several different ways to win. If you depend on one way to win, it will be too easy for others to figure out how to stymie you.
  • If you cannot write it down, or haven't done so, you don't have a strategy.

3. Are the problem, the action, and the solution all close to daily life?

The closer the better. For example, in Ohio Citizen Action's pesticides campaign in the early 1990's, the problem was on the fruits and vegetables we served at home. The action was in what we said or wrote to our grocer. The solution was buying organic food -- now possible because our local grocer has been persuaded to offer it. Everything close to home.

A common way to become disconnected from daily life is to assume the government is the solution to every problem. The campaign tends to sink into process, and the original goal tends to be forgotten.

For example, if your children are watching "Jenny Jones" on TV and you don't like it, you could write a letter to your Congress member urging legislation. Maybe they act accordingly. Maybe it passes. Maybe the other house passes it. Maybe the President signs it. Maybe the program gets funded. Maybe the agency considers it a priority. Maybe the bureaucrats don't bungle it. Maybe the networks comply by coding their programs. Maybe electronic firms produce the device for your TV set. Maybe you can afford it and get around to installing it.

Or, you can say, "Turn that crap off now."

The same pesticides campaign also involved grassroots pressure on Congress to reform the federal pesticides law. The reform passed, but the Clinton Administration did nothing to implement it. The new law was a victory of process, but no victory at all as measured by the test that matters: daily life.

4. How will this campaign tap the energy and develop the leadership skills of members, volunteers or other citizens groups?

It's not enough to win this one. Every campaign should develop working relationships and leadership skills for subsequent campaigns:

  • Going beyond the usual groups, winning over for the first time new constituents, interests, organizations or institutions
  • Experimenting with new means of member participation
  • Making sure that the people you work with locally make the campaign decisions
  • Finding people with great potential; acting as talent scouts

5. Is this the only campaign you are undertaking?

Campaigns require focus, singular concentration. You can either have one campaign or none. "A man who chases two rabbits at once will have nothing to eat for dinner."

6. Are you prepared to ask a lot of people for a lot of money to pay for the campaign?

If not, don't bother to begin the campaign.