Think about a nonprofit group — other then your own — that you really admire for their effectiveness.

What, in your judgment, makes them so effective?

Here’s an article on an organization I admire … the Humane Society of the US.

Why do I think they are effective? Here are four reasons, which I happen to believe are characteristics that are absolutely essential to success — at least for advocacy groups — in today’s social, political and media environment.

1. Charismatic leadership — HSUS has Wayne Pacelle at the helm. Media savvy. People-friendly. Able to turn a phrase. Thinks big and bold. Nonprofits need to get over the notion that ideas or positions prevail becaue of their inherent merits. The messenger is at least as critical. Put the right message in the wrong hands … and you’re doomed. Put a mediocre message in the right hands … and watch out!

2. Scale — HSUS is a $200 million+ organization. That’s enough resources, used smartly, to mount a significant campaign on any issue, against any opponent. Yes, I’m happy that there are lots of little local groups out there who care about animal welfare (or peace or the environment or whatever). But I draw the line at local. If you want to be a significant player at the national policy level these days, I’d say the table stakes are about $100 million. You might not have that $100 million right now, but if it’s not in your near-term future, pack up the office, merge, or hand your mailing lists over to someone who can get there.

3. Adroit use of electronic/digital media — HSUS has parlayed video, blogging, online fundraising, etc. the way a 21st century marketing organization should. Yes, I said marketing organization. That’s what advocacy groups do … they package and sell agendas, issues and policies.

These three characteristics I would argue apply to just about any nonprofit. The next gets added for advocacy groups.

4. Engage politically — HSUS "calls the question" vis-a-vis politicians who block its agenda. Too many groups, even advocacy groups, never get around to that. Too squeamish. Too intent upon appearing "reasonable." Sure, policy tends to get made in the middle … but smart advocates always try to enlarge the political space in their favor. And they don’t give a free pass to their staunchest opponents.

Not a list I suspect all Agitator readers will agree with. So then go back to my original question. How would you define what it takes to win?




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