February 19, 2015

The Death of a Political Action Committee

In my opinion, one of the best novels of all time is "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. The story is well known; a miserly curmudgeon who, along life's way, loses the true meaning of Christmas.Through a series of past, present and possible future events, we read about Ebeneezer Scrooge and his realization that immediate changes can alter his future. As the story goes, "Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!" Well, most of you know how the rest of the story continues towards its conclusion, but as a quick recap, Scrooge's life, one of loathing and greed, didn't take a sense of complete urgency until he saw his name on a tombstone. It was in that moment, when all that had happened to him in the story, came to a roaring "ah ha moment." It was at that moment he realized that he must change his ways.  
"A Christmas Carol" was written in 1843 but it's story resonates today because all of us, to a certain degree, can relate to things in life we wished we could have done differently. Some may even work towards change going forward.
My purpose for introducing a Dickens classic into today's article has a sole purpose and that is to help, to the best of my abilities, change the course of struggling Political Action Committees that may be at the point of seeing their names on a tombstone. Let's face it, the Great Recession damaged many fundraising roads and sucked enthusiasm from creativity. The post recession lack of any dollar, let alone the PAC dollar, caused an erosion for our industry's much needed fundraising efforts. However, other factors have had a role in this as well and it begins with the caretakers of PAC aka trustees;
  1. The lack of substantial mission statement that defines who, purpose and direction.
  2. The acceptance of the phrase "because we have always done things this way."
  3. The lack of strategic PAC meetings that uncover new ideas and, as important, implementing new ideas. What's the worst that can happen; you try something new and it doesn't work? At least you were willing to try.
  4. Leaving a meeting, with perhaps that new idea in place, and no time certain for it's implementation causing the idea to "die on the vine."
  5. Gathering for the sake of gathering and discussing the same things over and over and yet over again. 
  6. Holding new trustee orientation as well as refreshers for existing trustees.
If we had team meetings at our own companies that were handled this way you could be certain that the need for team meetings would go away due to the company going out of business or drastically downsizing.

How do we bring a PAC back from it's possible demise? Starting right now and going forward, productive change is needed. Take the above bullet points, starting with the first, a mission statement. What is the absolute function of a PAC? Raising funds for campaign contributions for legislators who are pro-housing. How should a PAC mission statement read? "Our goal as HBA's Political Action Committee is to raise the awareness within our members of how politics and our industry are inseparable and to encourage each member's ownership in the housing industry by investing their fair share in our PAC's primary function." Something along the lines would be a great start but without a clear cut mission, and yes, written out, you become lost. In fact, print it out and have your trustees read it before every PAC meeting or start your meeting by reading the mission statement out loud during chairman's remarks.

Bullet points 2 & 3 are very treacherous waters. Doing things the same way over and over again and expecting different results is quite possibly the craziest direction you could take. Crazy plus? Taking ideas from contributing members of your PAC and not vetting their potential as new and additional roads to travel in the search for PAC contributions. So many members become discouraged when their ideas are brought to the table and a few entrenched members disregard them because of their lack of understanding. You want positive change in your PAC? Listen, open your mind, discuss, then give the idea a solid opportunity to succeed on its own merits. No idea is a bad idea unless one track visions are allowed to dominate a PAC's direction. Until you have a successful PAC, you don't.

What's worse than not accepting new ideas? Not implementing the new ideas when the consensus is "let's do this!" Bullet point 4 is very frustrating because it means "we love the new idea" but there is no plan or timetable to implement the new idea. Come up with an idea, vett the idea for its functionality, identify the idea's financial gain v. work needed to accomplish, assign trustees to implement the idea and set up a date certain for the event, program or initiative. The worse thing you can do is go to the same well for funds. You need to shake up your methods.

Bullet point 5; having PAC meetings that have the same discussions or same discussions but phrased slightly different are just as useless because the lack of creativity at the meeting level will certainly translate to lackluster results and a waning of volunteer interest. To have a meeting because you haven't had one in awhile is no reason to have a meeting. Meetings need to accomplish something better for PAC's initiatives, at least better than before you started. Unfortunately, in some cases, trustees will talk for the sake of talking even if it means rehashing past conversations. You don't want to suck the life out of your PAC trustees, do you? 

Bullet point 6; new trustees with zero to little guidance on what the role of a trustee truly means is setting the stage for the PAC to begin its descent and will deteriorate over the years as the established members start to step down. Before you know it, the true meaning of PAC is gone. Refreshers are needed to help trustees to refocus their commitment and reignite their passion. Everyone one needs a shot of enthusiasm every once in awhile.

If the above negatives fits your PAC you need to start, beginning now, with reshaping your PAC or tear down and start from scratch. If your choice is do nothing, your PAC will become devalued beyond recognition or simply cease to exist.
The importance of PAC is far reaching, more so than any other HBA function you may deem important. Without political influence we will be in a very hostile climate for our chosen industry, which would translate to less members and less non dues revenue. Meaning the demise of the HBA would not be too far down the road. Trust me, I'm not exaggerating.

Some of you may not like or appreciate what I wrote today. Do not look to criticize me for striking a nerve. Instead, look at this as an opportunity for your PAC, just as Ebeneezer Scrooge did by getting a second chance at living his life to its fullest. Change is never easy but it can be exceptionally rewarding if changed for the better with eyes wide open and minds expanded with a sense of urgency sprinkled in.

Go ahead, say humbug all you want.

submitted by Michael Kurpiel, CGA, CGP

1 comment:

George Vallone said...

Mike K - "He's back!

Great message. I think the Fallone Sub-Committee agrees.