The four major threats to the effectiveness of organizational advocacy are:
1. The dynamic nature of issue advocacy creates larger inefficiencies as organizations grow in size.As organizations grow, the contributing public is locked into investments of maintaining large overhead through periods of diminished interest in changing environmental policy. These continued steady investments and involvement during times of inactivity undermine confidence in the organizations ability to use investments wisely. Unable to adapt their model to more closely match expenditures with genuine opportunities to pass policy, organizations continue to push for policy change during times when legislative, administrative or court support is limited. (ie. 2002-2003)
2. Cheap market alternatives can now mimic the output of larger organizations and are supplanting traditional large organizational advantages.
Consulting services and grassroots management companies have leveraged the reductions in the costs of technology to provide instant “off-the-self” campaigns cheaply and effectively. In the process of building these “instant” constituencies they have devalued genuine popular support. The opposition has found counter-measures to such organization mobilization tools. Targeted mailings, phone banking, letter writing, and event organizing (labor intensive processes that required as much free labor as large organizations could assemble) can be purchased cheaply thru the private sector. Many politicians and political offices now ignore email or faxes and merely weigh mail piles and form cards.
Availability of affordable technology (intranet PAC sites, corporate advocacy tools) and communication services (ads, polling, auto-dialers, Internet and media bookings) help narrow focused interest groups and their lobbyists counter balance the traditional methods, strategies and tactics of broadly supported organization campaigners.
3. The contraction of attention cycles in the modern 24 hour news cycle both intensifies and shortens opportunity to push policy.
The 24-hour instant news world works against both large and small organizations. The media cycle is shorter and more intense. Media have developed an unchecked feedback loop where the coverage of a story by one outlet helps a story become newsworthy to other outlets. The more that a story gets covered, the greater the public interest. Interest leads to higher ratings, which leads back to more coverage. This loop runs very quickly and is only stopped by story fatigue.[Emergence] The resulting dynamic is a tighter attention cycle and a smaller window for creating policy change fueled by earned media. The American public’s attention has developed into a fast paced and rapidly changing appetite for news. The media move from story to story very quickly testing the “stickiness” of a storyline and set of characters.
Smaller organizations do not have the resources to cope with the attention of a major media story. Larger organizations can cope with the strain of media attention but cannot shift policy and program directives quickly enough to capitalize on the opportunity media attention represents.
4. The shift in demographics is away from “joiners” to a more casually connected base of support.
The most troubling trend and direct threat to the organizational structure is a basic shift in behavior of the American public away from “joiners”. The United States is no longer a “joiner” country. Demographics and membership data show that the average citizen does not join organizations, political parties or institutions. Increasingly, individuals get involved in an issue on their own terms rather than on the terms forced on them by organizational membership. Membership of major organizations is increasingly old, white and declining. The membership of groups is not reflective of broader societal diversity. However, this trend away from membership is not a trend away from popular support for environmental protection. Therefore, groups must adopt advocacy strategies that are not merely designed to build and capitalize on membership (membership is still very important but only for a small minority of the public.)
In a fast paced and connected world, people interested in an issue will be able to find the leaders working on an issue (not everyone needs a newsletter and long term engagement contract to help you). The challenge is to adopt new strategies that can adopt succesfully to rapid rise and fall of issues in a modern connected culture. Traditional organizational culture and managment dynamics prevent smoothly adapting to this new reality. The movement and the organizations that launch campaigns must add a network-centric advocacy component to all campaign planning to capitalize on the connectivity of the modern body politic.