One of my favorite books is by Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School, entitled Give and Take. He writes that there are three types of people in this world—givers, matchers, and takers–and that the most successful people and the least successful people are givers. Givers either create so much goodwill that everybody wants to help them, or everybody takes advantage of them.
Grant’s book proved incredibly helpful when my co-founder, Jonathan Marks, and I were starting Quorum. The two of us could walk out of meetings and immediately identify what type of person somebody was.
Recently, I started thinking about how Grant’s philosophy applies to government affairs and how easy it is to be a “taker”: Can you please get us a room for our event? Can you sign onto this bill? Do you have the draft text of the committee amendment? What is happening on the substitute bill?
Government affairs is predicated on relationships, but those relationships often involve asking favors. At best, this makes everyone involved a “matcher”—I’ll help you because I know you will help me down the road.
This dynamic was evident when I participated in a fly-in on Capitol Hill for one of Quorum’s clients. In every meeting, we dove straight into our agenda and priorities. We didn’t know what the member had done on the issues or what they were currently working on; rather, we wanted to launch into what we wanted from that member.
As the day went on, I began asking about the projects or initiatives each member was working on. When asked, they shared bills they were thinking about introducing, events they were planning to host, and site visits the legislator had done back in the district. Suddenly, there were opportunities to engage and form relationships by working with the office to help advance their priorities.
So what would it look like to take a giving approach to government relations? Individuals and organizations would go out of their way to help legislators on their priorities. The possibilities to help out are endless, but they all involve one thing—not making an ask of support.
With this in mind, here are five ways you can take a proactive approach to government affairs:
The first step is to identify opportunities for engagement. Look at the topics the legislator has talked about on social media, in their press releases, or elsewhere. Make sure you do your background research before a meeting to know what they have accomplished or are working towards.
Show up, let the staff talk for 70 percent of the conversation, and then brainstorm some ways you might be able to help them out.
Whether through social media, an organizational endorsement, a local newspaper ad, or hosting an event—have a toolkit readily available of the resources you have at your disposal.
Over time, you are going to collect a lot of information about what different members and staff are working on and what you’ve helped them accomplish, so make sure to write it down in a central system.
This isn’t boastful; it is simply good practice. Other legislators or stakeholders will start to see your organization as an effective leader, raising your profile on Capitol Hill.
Imagine doubling the number of strong allies on your issue, spending time helping to move important initiatives forward, and having members and staff consistently saying thank you for your help. It all starts with giving. Learn from Signify's Jean Cantrell the relationships that are key to government affairs success.