Good Cop vs. Bad Cop NonProfit Lobbying

When is it appropriate to play good cop or bad cop in nonprofit lobbying?
June 24, 2011 – Mark Buzan's PR and Public Affairs Spot on the Web: For a long time, I have encountered a common theme in nonprofit and cause based associations when it comes to NGO advocacy and nonprofit lobbying: emotional appeal.  This is normal.  To be effective, nonprofit organisations have to tell a story to effective in government relations.  Part of that story requires nonprofits and associations to show their passion and demonstrate why others should care about their cause.
But what happens when government legislators don't share this passion?  Many nonprofit organisation executives can be tempted to take their cause to the public and denounce their detractors.  Others may call for reconciliation and negotiation when it comes to lobbying for nonprofit organisations.  So how do nonprofit associations know when to apply either of these lobbying strategies?
The answer for some associations is to apply what can be called as the "Good Cop, Bad Cop strategy".  In this lobbying strategy, nonprofit organisations undertake a strategy of reaching out to parrallel stakeholder groups to assist them in their campaign. One of the groups takes the role of the good party that seeks to collaborate with the decision makers and legislators. At the same time, another group assumes the role of the bad party that names and shames the decision makers. In other words, the former plays the role of the good cop, and the latter plays the role of the bad cop. If this is coordinated between these two groups, they need to be fairly cautious in their cooperating together. Any leakage of such cooperation would discredit the efforts of the “good cop” group.
Such a strategy has its positives and negatives and whichever approach your organization undertakes, it is critical you consider two important factors to ensure good nonprofit lobbying practice:
  1. Where are you in the education process of gaining support for your cause?  Have you been caught by surprise by a legislative initiative contrary to your mission and there's little time to react?  If this is the case, then perhaps you may have no other choice than to play the "Bad Cop" role.  Keep in mind however that playing this role too often can burn bridges.  The most successful nonprofit lobbying associations are those that position themselves as solution providers, not constant complainers.
  2. Getting your ducks in line: How well developed are your stakeholder relations?  Making sure you have the appropriate linkages and enough trust built between all parties will be critical in making the judgement call of whether it is appropriate to go negative or positive in lobbying.

What has been your experience?



Mark Buzan, APR is Principal and Chief Magnifying Officer in Action Strategies, a specialist grassroots and lobbying advocacy consultancy for nonprofit associations.

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