Surviving in Tough Times: Do-It-Yourself Lobbying

In the worst U.S. economy since the 1930s, most human service organizations are facing a very tough time as private sources of funding, including individuals and foundations, have cut back on giving. In the Jewish community, it’s been a disaster, compounded by the Madoff fraud scandal. Jewish organizations have had to contend with monthly projections of income and expenses that are soaked in red ink, while their endowments have been ravaged.

In this environment, the question arises: How can you access the resources being made available by the public sector, specifically the federal government? One way is to pay high-priced Washington-based lobbyists who are eagerly steering much of the national economic recovery stimulus money, as well as other federal funds in appropriations bills, to their well-paying clients. But most community-based Jewish organizations can’t afford to get in on this “gravy train” of stimulus money or congressionally directed project funds through appropriations.

What can such Jewish organizations do?

They need to look beyond “business as usual.” One way is to appeal directly to elected government officials for funding that can be targeted for “shovel-ready” projects to expand childcare and youth programs, elderly day care, employment retraining, and other services for their communities. In fact, some groups have been able to succeed in this. For example, the U.S. House of Representatives recently approved the FY 2010 appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, which included millions of dollars of congressionally directed funding (earmarks requested by House Members). However, among the thousands of projects earmarked for funding in the bill only about a dozen went to identifiable Jewish organizations, including the following:

  • Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood, New Jersey, for a $150,000 job training initiative;
  • Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, Elizabeth, New Jersey, for a $300,000 aging-in-place demonstration project;
  • Beth El House, Alexandria, Virginia, for a $200,000 housing and social services project for formerly homeless single mothers and their families;
  • Jewish Community Council of Canarsie, Brooklyn, New York, for $300,000 to support services for at-risk Holocaust survivors; and,
  • Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis, in Minnetonka, Minnesota, for $250,000 for the Family Caregiver Access Network Demonstration Project.

Yes, Jewish organizations can do what they already do best – advocate for support and funding by effectively and powerfully communicating their needs, intentions, and initiatives – without expending huge sums of money for outside “professional” lobbyists.

Although it may seem unachievable for “ordinary” citizens or groups, lobbying is actually not that hard to learn to do.

Stephen Jacobs, a long-time community philanthropist, experienced lobbyist, and founder of LobbyingU – a new kind of capacity building company, explains: “What I’ve seen more and more is that organizations seeking federal funds through requests to members of Congress can succeed most efficiently when they represent their own case effectively and directly. Whether they retain a professional lobbyist or serve as their own lobbyist, the primary person making the request must be a leader within the organization itself.”

Today, the most powerful and cost-effective way to lobby for your organization’s cause is to “do-it-yourself” directly, honestly, and with integrity. Put simply, you can be your own best lobbyist. You can skip the middleman and do the job yourself. What it takes is one person spending a couple of hours a week devoted to advocating your organization’s mission and specific project funding or policy goals.

about LobbyingU: Believing that it really is “time for a change” in how lobbying is done Washington, a creative and experienced team has launched a new kind of capacity building company, called LobbyingU, which can teach you how to lobby for your own group to secure funding or change a law or a regulation that affects your organization or community.

LobbyingU’s goal is to de-mystify and de-myth-ify the process so that organizations can represent themselves in the Nation’s Capitol, creating opportunities and solving problems by devising and implementing effective, creative strategies to achieve funding success in today’s political environment. You can learn more about the process through their Website.

Marcia P. Neeley, a strategic communications advisor, is the former Executive Director of Marketing & Communications, UJA-Federation of New York, responsible for shaping the public profile of the organization and presenting its complex and diverse programs and projects to multiple audiences, through broad-based media and communications initiatives locally and internationally, including the former Soviet Union, Argentina, and Israel. This post is conveyed content.