Another campaign season is over and, except for Special Elections, mass voting won’t happen again until next Fall. But now is the time to begin preparing ways to clarify what candidates – for elected and appointed offices -- believe and will do about your issues. And it is important to remember that non-profits are legally able to play a major role in that public education process.
The two most typical tactics are sending candidates a questionnaire/survey and holding a public forum. Of the hundreds of each that I have read and attended over the years, very few of the questionnaire responses were more than long exercises of political side-stepping. Very few of the forums were more than boring recitations of platitudes. Very little of it helped anyone decide who to vote for – although some candidate’s performances or written answers were so bad that I personally eliminated them from consideration.
Still, setting up candidate events is an important part of advocacy work. So, the question is how to make them better -- more informative, more interesting, more useful, and more effective in advancing advocacy goals. And that starts with becoming clear about the full range of effects that we’re trying to accomplish. The typical purpose of election-related events is to learn more about candidates and their positions. Two under-appreciated but equally valuable functions are to establish a relationship with current (or future) decision-makers and to let politicians learn more about you and your issues. A related and worthwhile goal is using the event to gain increased public visibility for your issue and your organization. And, if done well with lots of opportunity for public engagement, these events can provide a first taste of political engagement for previously uninvolved people.