Nathan Sproul | Philanthropy & Community Engagement

Nathan Sproul covers philanthropy and community organization news.

Funding More Public Affairs and Less Government Relations


A recent survey revealed that Washington insiders expect quicker growth in spending on “public affairs”—digital, grassroots/grasstops, and public/media relations—than on traditional government relations—which include direct lobbying, advocacy advertising, and political contributions—for the second year in a row in 2017.

A separate study revealed the federal government employed over 3,000 public affairs officers spread across over 200 federal agencies and offices in 2014. Based on these data, the U.S. government has essentially been the world’s second largest public relations firm for some time now. Rasky Baerlein’s October 2016 survey of 202 Washington lawyers, lobbyists, executives, think tank leaders, and academics indicates that Washington Insiders are realizing the benefits of such intensive PR work.

The digital sphere of public affairs is expected to grow more than any other. As we are learning from the recent presidential election, the digital realm is fertile ground for generating new pathways of connection between the public and the government or its representatives. EagleAi, an artificial intelligence program developed for British news media, predicted Donald Trump’s surprise election victory even where other experts failed to do so and attributed his win to his frequent mass communication over Twitter, a popular social media platform that allows for reaching large groups of people. It therefore comes as no surprise that over 40 percent of Washington Insiders indicate that they will reallocate their public affairs spending away from traditional, non-digital realms to fund digital advocacy in 2017.

“There is an increased demand for integrated public affairs programs that incorporate traditional government relations along with public relations, grassroots and digital components,” Larry Rasky, Rasky Baerlein’s chairman and CEO, explained in a press release. “These findings are an important barometer as Washington readies itself for post-election activity and 2017.”

Beyond next year, digital technology, social media, and grassroots efforts are expected to continue to grow for the next half-decade as policy influencers will work harder to sway public opinion by reaching out to audiences outside of lawmakers and government officials.

“Washington insiders are adapting to a new public affairs environment,” noted Greg Schneiders, founder and CEO of Prime Group.  “It should not be a surprise that they are reallocating resources to achieve their public policy objectives.”

Despite these expected growth trends, however, traditional government relations remain the most cost-effective way to lobby for changes to public policy on a federal level, at least for the time being. Insiders note that the cost-effectiveness of such efforts has decreased from 85 percent to 74 percent over the course of this year. Nevertheless, they expect the importance of advocacy advertising to rise by 8 percent in the coming year even as they spend more on public affairs efforts.

Whether through public affairs or government relations efforts, 40 percent of insiders expressed belief that Congress will take action on infrastructure legislation in 2017. Just 22 percent believed there will be a resolution to Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination—though we now know he will not be confirmed—and only 8 percent anticipate any action on tax reform.

Nathan Sproul – Fall in Love with Phoenix

Phoenix has long been noted as a popular snowbird destination. Its mild winter weather, and multitude of recreation and cultural opportunities attract all types, from all over. But, did you know that autumn is an incredible time to visit? With so much to experience, and ideal weather to do it all in, it’s obvious why visitors can’t get enough of fall in Phoenix.

Perfect Weather

The oppressive heat of the summer is starting to fade by the time fall arrives. The daytime temperatures are perfect for enjoying a number of outdoor recreational activities. Sun worshipers will appreciate that the days are still pleasantly warm enough for sunbathing. As night falls, so do the temperatures, but it is still usually pleasant enough to enjoy outdoor dining and activities.

Outdoor Destinations

The mild days make outdoor activities particularly enjoyable throughout the fall months. The cooler days make it a perfect time to hike Camelback Mountain or hike, bike or drive to the vistas at South Mountain Park and preserve. Not up for a strenuous hike? Not a problem! You can enjoy the bounty of the Desert Botanical Garden or learn about the history of the area at the Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park.

Cultural and Sporting Events

Fall brings with it a host of events. October is a month of festivals in the greater Phoenix area. The Arizona State Fair sets up residence at the Veterans Coliseum. Oktoberfest, the Greek Festival, weekend ‘Ales on Rails’ train trips, and the Rainbow Festival round out the offerings to ensure there’s something for everyone to enjoy. November brings a few different arts festivals, including ArtFest of Scottsdale and the Fountain Hills Festival of Arts & Crafts. Looking for something more fast-paced? You won’t want to miss the NASCAR can-am 500. With four major professional sports teams, there’s almost always an opportunity to catch a game. As fall winds down, Phoenix heralds the transition to the holiday season with ZooLights, which begins at the end of November. This illuminated wonderland is a treat for the whole family.

Retail Therapy

Phoenix offers stellar shopping and dining opportunities year round; for fall visitors, September’s Restaurant Week is not to be missed. Browse for souveniers in Old Town Scottsdale or visit the Phoenix Art Museum. Shop the many boutiques housed in downtown’s Cityscape, or head to the Public Market for local, farm-fresh goods each weekend.

Autumn in Phoenix is a special, fun-filled time of year. With fantastic weather, loads of recreational, dining, sports, cultural and entertainment options for any interest and budget, Phoenix can’t be beat. Why not visit this fall?

How to Use Digital Public Affairs to Stand Out

In today’s fast-paced world when nearly everything can be done digitally to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, businesses cannot ignore the importance of using digital public affairs to achieve advocacy success. With many companies relying on digital communications specialists, digital advocacy software, and advanced data-driven campaigns, it’s obvious that digital public affairs are a recurring character in day-to-day business interactions.

The Public Affairs Council defines public affairs as, “a multi-faceted function where lobbyists, grassroots advocacy specialists, policy experts, political involvement specialists and communications professionals coordinate their activities to achieve advocacy success.”

According to Public Affairs Advisor Steffen Moller, there are three levels of public affairs, which include 1) supporting day-to-day public affairs, 2) utilizing digital technology as a campaign tool, and 3) digital and internal communications.

If your business utilizes public affairs in any way for its business functions, then you will want to ensure that you are getting the most out of your efforts. Here are a few key trends from The Public Affairs Council that you should observe:

1) Visual Storytelling:

Including visual elements, such as pictures, videos, infographics, charts, and graphs to accompany your text, which I discussed in another blog post, will keep your intended audience’s attention and make them far more likely to retain the information you’re conveying.

2) Social Media for Government Relations and Thought Leadership:

Social media can be a useful tool for public affairs professionals if they use it to direct content to influential audiences such as reporters, policymakers, grassroots supporters, and other online stakeholders. The internet is the key mode of communication between businesses and individuals in the digital age, so it just makes sense to utilize this technology in a business where cross-coordination is key. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter can help public affairs professionals share their thoughts on an issue and showcase their expertise.

3) Data-Driven Advocacy:

It is imperative, in the public affairs industry, to use data to inform advocacy and communications campaigns, because data helps target advocacy efforts and can be a huge improvement to key performance metrics. Overall, data backs up campaign efforts and is, therefore, a major stepping stone to securing advocates.

4) Online Reputation Management:

In any industry, especially public affairs, online reputation directly impacts how key players in the industry view your business. For public affairs professionals, reputation is everything when it comes to building positive relationships with the public and the professionals behind their advocacy campaigns. Your organization’s online reputation can be positively or negatively affected by any piece of content relating to your organization, from blog posts to news articles to social media mentions to consumer reviews. People are likely to search a company on the internet before using their services or offering support, so for public affairs professionals who obviously want to have successful advocacy campaigns, it pays to focus efforts on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and marketing to optimize positive search results.

Unfortunately, digital trends can’t be ignored in the public affairs industry if public affairs professionals want to have any success with their campaigns, but luckily it only takes a few steps to stand out and maximize campaign potential.

Public Affairs Insights: Visual Storytelling

According to research from the Public Affairs Council, eight seconds is all the time you have to grab your audience’s attention before they lose interest. So what does this mean for you as a marketer? How can you ensure that your content reaches your intended audience before they get distracted and move onto something else?

Eight seconds may not seem like a lot of time, but don’t panic. With effective visual storytelling, you’ll be an expert attention-grabber in no time. According to Widen, The Picture Superiority Effect is the idea that concepts presented with visuals and pictures are easier to learn and more frequently recalled than those without. Therefore, your written content will be much more powerful with accompanying visuals. Words only have a 10 percent retention rate, while a visual element increases retention of content to 65 percent. Additionally, your social media posts will garner much more attention if they include a visual element–180 percent more engagement and 150 percent more retweets, to be exact.

Here are some tips to help make your online content stand out from the competition:

  • Go back through your already-published text-only posts and add images to illustrate your main points wherever possible. You could even repurpose old posts into visual slideshows or videos, using images to tell the same story in a more engaging way. These simple fixes will pay off, as articles with images get 94 percent more views than those without, blogs with videos get 300 percent more inbound links, and videos are 53 times more likely to snag a spot on the first page of Google search results than text.
  • When you use photos, think of them as a tool for acting out a story for your audience. By keeping your narrative simple, highlighting your product’s best features, and making your product the conclusion of your narrative, you will be selling your product in a context your audience can understand and relate to.
  • If you want your content to go viral, find ways for customers to get involved, such as writing compelling captions to spark conversations or encouraging customers to post their photos of themselves engaging with your product.
  • Use hashtags to extend your content’s reach. Add social media buttons from sites like Twitter and Pinterest to encourage customers to share your content.

Stories combined with pictures can be useful marketing tools. When you incorporate them together, you’ve got a winning combination.

Three Reasons to Volunteer as a Mentor

For many young people, mentors are a lifeline. Research demonstrates that peopleand that includes children, teens, young adults, and adults of all ages throughout their careers—benefit from having mentors in various ways. Results from one multi-disciplinary study show that “mentoring is associated with a wide range of favorable behavioral, attitudinal, health-related, relational, motivational, and career outcomes.”

I was inspired by a recent article on which profiled a single mother of five who, despite her many demands as a parent, makes time to mentor a dozen children each week, volunteer as a track coach for a local high school, and serve as a board member for an elderly care organization. The article aptly dubbed Gonzalez a “superwoman.”

How can one person make such a difference, you ask? Easy. Embrace every opportunity. Currently, Gonzalez is, on top of everything else, studying for her doctorate in organizational leadership, but she doesn’t use busyness as an excuse not to get involved, saying:

“I don’t ever use my being a single mom as a reason not to be able to do something, not to go to college, not to advocate for someone, not to do stuff as a family with my kids …”

So, instead of focusing on the reasons why you cannot volunteer as a mentor, remember Gonzalez’s story and turn your attention to the reasons why you can and should.

Not sure what those reasons are? Here are three with which to start.

Reason #1: You have something to offer, even if you think you don’t.

This spring, Peter Thomson, a digital strategy expert with nearly 15 years experience, wrote about his decision to become a mentor for growing startup companies in an article for

Said Thomson:

“Mentoring makes you realize how far you’ve come in your own career and how much value you can add. You may actually know more than you realize you do. The best way to really test if you understand something is to try and explain it in simple enough terms that someone can act on it. Mentoring challenged me to articulate the lessons that I’ve learned from my own career in a clearer and more helpful manner.”

Allow me to echo the key lesson that Thomson imparts: You know more than you realize.

Reason #2: You will learn more than you can imagine.

I’ve learned that forming relationships with someone who is younger (and who has likely had different experiences) will teach you more about a topic with which you’re less familiar. After all, remember these wise words from Henry Ford who said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

Reason #3: Your network will become greatly enriched.

Although you may already have a thriving professional network at this stage in your career, a mentor-mentee relationship offers different pathways to forging connections that could benefit you, too. For example, working parents who volunteer with kids might find that those mentoring relationships will help them forge relationships with other parents who, in turn, could help provide a support system in other aspects of life.

The upshot: Embrace what you have to give, and you’ll be surprised what you get in return.


Nathan Sproul: Three Questions to Ask Before You Join a Board

For some individuals, being a member of a board invokes pictures of rich movers and shakers, writing hefty checks and chairing lavish fundraisers. Surely, that kind of board participation is essential to soliciting money on behalf of a worthy organization. However, there are other functions of a board member that many people overlook.

My leadership team has proudly served on boards for numerous organizations, including Boys & Girls Club, Detour Company Theatre, and Valley Leadership. At Lincoln Strategy Group, we cherish these volunteer roles as an opportunity to help nonprofits enlarge the reach and scope of their work. Indeed, money is needed when it comes to supporting these organizations. But they also need the time, skills, and career experience of business executives.

Whether you’ve served on boards in the pastor if you’re considering joining one for the first timeit’s crucial to ask yourself and the organization several questions. Your ability to make a positive impact will depend on the organization’s expectations, not to mention your own expectations, resources, and availability.

What Do You Want To Gain From This Membership?

It’s perfectly fine to join a board whose mission you can bolster while making sure it’s a partnership that will benefit you as well. attests that not only will a board membership raise your profile in a certain industry and profession, but it can also strengthen your project and team management skills.

What’s the Criteria?

How many meetings will you be required to attend? Is there a minimum fundraising amount that you’re required to hit? In some cases, a primary responsibility of board members is to provide strategic direction for the organization. While in other instances, some board members are background supporters who aren’t expected to do much more than lend their name to the organization’s promotional materials. Both levels of involvement have their perks and drawbacks but ask upfront about the expectations.

Why Does This Organization Want You?

How many board members does the organization currently have? And more importantly, why are they looking for new ones? Those are two pertinent questions to ask, according to nonprofit consultant Allison Fuller who recommends finding out as much as you can about the composition of an organization’s current board as well as the board’s turnover rate. “If you are radically out of step with the rest of the Board you need to know,” she says, “and ask why they are looking outside their ranks.”


Nathan Sproul|When Twitter Meets Politics

When twitter Meets politics-min

This year, Twitter celebrated its 10th anniversary. In the 10 years since Twitter launched in March 2006, the social media platform has become a foundation for everything from marketing new products and services to sharing and gathering breaking news.

As for Twitter’s influence on politics, it has been called a “force that has bolstered grassroots conversations, disrupted the top-down nature of political leadership and thought, and has given voice to groups long hidden on the political periphery,” according to writer Vann R. Newkirk II in a recent article in The Atlantic. In today’s political climate, writes Newkirk, “a candidate without Twitter is a losing candidate.”

The profound reach of Twitter goes beyond its 320 million users. Twitter “drives the media conversation,” says Mashable, and that conversation carries over into other mediums.

Consider the Republican response to the Senate Democrats’ 14-plus hour filibuster and the subsequent 24-hour sit-in over gun control this summer. USA Today reported that half a million people tweeted about the filibuster, many of whom were conservative politicians and citizens typing the #filibuster hashtag to express their dismay that Senate Democrat Chris Murphy would lead such a disruptive, prolonged action.

Although Fortune wrote that “Twitter and its live-streaming service Periscope couldn’t have orchestrated a better marketing campaign than what took place inside the House of Representatives on Wednesday,” many others disagreed with the Democrats’ brash strong-arming via its ongoing social media broadcast. What the left-leaning media had deemed as a successful marketing campaign was seen by numerous other thoughtful people as forceful partisanship that eschewed a meaningful attempt to rationally or meaningfully interact with lawmakers from across the aisle.

Certainly, no politician should forgo Twitter; the platform can be essential when it comes to connecting with constituents, promoting campaign stops and talking points, and becoming a political influencer. However, the future of politics and Twitter is unclear. Writer Jim Geraghty, ever unafraid to say what the rest of us are thinking, penned a recent column for The National Review about the double standards of Twitter.

Said Geraghty:

“We can work to create a more polite, respectful political discourse that involves censoring voices that use the most incendiary or offensive language. Or we can have a no-holds-barred, anything goes, First Amendment-absolutist one. I could operate happily in either. But whatever standard there is, there has to be one standard for everyone; those who see their job as policing discourse for ”appropriate” tone and language must apply the same rules to conservatives and liberals, libertarians and populists, the extreme Right and the extreme Left.”

Advice for Emerging Philanthropists

So you want to give back to your community, to support great causes in an effort to make a small difference in the world? Yes. Me too.

If you have dreams of becoming a large-scale philanthropist (or you hope to, in any way, put your money behind your convictions and concerns), it might be harder than you expected to make them a reality. Sure, while it seems easy to write a check and send it to the correct association, you want to make sure you’re making the most effect. So there should be a great deal of methodology and thought behind your good deeds. Here are three ways that you can begin on the right footing.

Find a Calling

Whatever you want to call it–a calling, a niche–you’ll want to choose a focus and to narrow in on the particular cause you hope to bolster. Ideally, you’ll use your energy and resources in one or two areas as opposed to spreading yourself too thin over a large number of causes.

Outline a Strategy

This might be the most vital part of how successful your altruistic efforts are. A solid plan will take you far. Consider the causes where you anticipate making gifts, think about how you anticipate making those gifts, and even with whom you will partner. Contemplating these key things before hand will help give you course of action.

As for the how of making gifts, remember: You can give resources, time, physical space, or you can even set up your very own charity to funnel money into a cause.


Consider Your Legacy

What sort of effect do you hope you’ll leave on the world or on a particular cause? How do you want to be remembered? Let your answer to that question guide your philanthropy. In all things in life, fleshing out your objectives is key to achievement. Knowing where you want to be or where you hope to be is the first step to charting the course to actually get there.


What Is a Grassroots Campaign?

If you look up the definition for grassroots, you’ll  find anything alluding to the concept of “made for and by common citizens.” A grassroots campaign is no different. Here are the three objectives in this type of campaign.

Choose a Goal

Does the organization want to elect an official? Do you want to target a specific public or social issue? Every grassroots team has a strong purpose and develops the following in the first stage:

Brand: Are you a traditional organization or a progressive one? Focus the tone and personality of the effort.

Hierarchy: Establish who is in charge of what and who reports to whom.

Strategy: Make sure your campaign knows where to start and how you plan to grow.

Organize and Fundraise

Grassroots campaigns aren’t afraid to get a little dirty and do all the legwork.  That means:

Going Door-to-Door: Grassroots volunteers and workers are experts with talking to others about the organization’s goals and purpose.

Facilitating Local Events: Hosting events is a great way to spread the word and ramp up excitement for a cause.

Engaging Public Officials: Having local support from elected or public officials can help build momentum and speed progress.

Sustain and Expand

Ultimately, every campaign must find a way to sustain itself and spread positive change. While the organization can reach a national level, each iteration of the grassroots effort starts with working in the local area and talking with citizens. Every campaign must have a design for sustaining itself financially and with local community interest.

Whether for a cause or political candidate, the grassroots venture begins and stays with ordinary people. Every campaign is unique, but you can generally break down a grassroots every into these three pillars. To get involved with grassroots efforts in your areas, check local forums and bulletins for causes you support. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get involved.


Presidential Politics 101

During an election year, the word “politics” gets bandied about a lot. It’s always helpful to take a step back to assess what, exactly, we mean when we use the word. From the political parties to the election itself (and, of course, the day to day running of government), here’s a quick guide to presidential politics.

The Major Parties

The two biggest and most powerful political parties in the US are the Republicans and the Democrats. Generally, Republicans tend to be more politically conservative, while Democrats are more liberal. Each election year, these parties hold primary elections to select their nominee—the person who will run for president as a representative of the party. Although many different parties field candidates for each election, the size and funding capabilities of the Republican and Democratic parties mean that their two candidates are usually the closest contenders. Serious third-party candidates (who don’t belong to either group) are possible, but rare.

The General Election

During the general election, the nominees of the parties campaign in states across the country. This is because the president isn’t directly elected by the people. Each state has a set number of delegates in a body called the Electoral College. Whoever has the most delegates at the end of the election becomes the president. If there is a tie, the House of Representatives gets to pick a new president.

The President’s Job

The new president is inaugurated in January, and immediately begins the process of running the government. As the head of state, he or she is constitutionally responsible for enacting and enforcing laws. The president may approve or veto laws that Congress passes. Although the president cannot create his or her own legislation, many presidents set the agenda for their political party and thus indirectly for their allies in Congress. Additionally, the president is the commander in chief of the military and has many diplomatic responsibilities. Although the president can’t do everything, he or she is one of the most powerful people both in the US and the world—which is why presidential politics are so interesting.

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