Articles From September 2010
Josh and I are excited to name Rachna Choudhry as the third member of our founding team and the Chief Marketing Officer for POPVOX. Rachna is passionate about making the advocacy process more efficient. She draws upon 12 years of coalition-building and staff outreach experience to ensure that POPVOX “solves her problem -- that is, the problem of the 10,000+ organizations that work to present their members’ concerns to Congress. We will let her explain, below. -- Marci
I first met Marci at a dinner party two years ago. When the host mentioned that she was a congressional staffer, I immediately perked up. I was, after all, working for an advocacy organization whose purpose was to inform Members of Congress and influence the policy-making process. Simply put, I was a lobbyist.
Instead of having a typical Washington dinner party conversation, however, (e.g. Who do you work for? What issues do you cover? What’s on your “docket” right now?), we discussed the extent of the breakdown in the system. Even with the overwhelming amount of emails, letters, phone calls, faxes, literature drops, Tweets and Facebook posts from individuals across the country, it was still a challenge for Congress to ascertain the positions of organizations and understand the concerns of their constituents. The signal-to-noise ratio was skewed. Congress was getting too much noise, so much so that it was interfering with the signal—the underlying message.
As a lobbyist, I felt the problem from the other side. Organizations ask grassroots members to “click here to send a message to your elected officials,” and thousands of letters are sent on an issue or about a specific bill. Yet, I often found that days or weeks later, when I visited a Congressional office and referred to the hundreds of emails that were sent to that Member, the staffer would look at me as though I had sprouted an extra head. More often than not, he or she would reply, “I haven’t seen any letters on this issue from our constituents.” I would then return to my office to get PDFs of the letters that were indeed sent, and forward them.
While my efforts were effective in some instances, there was no way I could efficiently duplicate it for all 541 Congressional offices. There had to be a better way.
As Marci and I continued to talk, I asked something I had been wanting to know for quite some time: Why is it that staffers call me to find other organizations to endorse their boss’s legislation? These calls usually began with, “I know this isn’t an issue you work on, but do you know any organizations that would be interested in endorsing this bill?” Since I always wanted to be helpful to staffers, I would tell them what was often the truth: I have no idea, but give me some time; I’ll see what I can find out. That meant an extensive Google search and hunting through organizations’ websites to find contact information for the appropriate person for the staffer to approach.
Marci laughed and said, “They probably call you because you’re efficient!” I appreciated the compliment, but thought there had to be a better way. How was it that no one had created a tool for staffers to get the information they need in an efficient format that is real-time, verified and aggregated across organizational silos?
I don’t have to tell you the rest of the story.
I’m excited about being a part of POPVOX because it will help advocacy organizations, citizens groups and trade associations—large and small, inside the Beltway and out—increase their visibility and clarify their message on Capitol Hill. POPVOX will improve the signal-to-noise ratio so that Members of Congress hear what members of the public and organizations have to say in a platform that is public, transparent and allows for accountability on both sides. This is the tool I wanted as an advocate to make sure that I was effective in the eyes of my organization’s members and our funders. And the added bonus: it would have made my own work life a heck of a lot easier!
(For media inquiries, please contact Marci Harris, POPVOX’s CEO, at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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