AC Insights
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AC Insights

Advocacy and External Relations: Educating and Engaging for Results

Karen Y. Zamarripa and Owen Holmes, Karen Zamarripa Consulting and AASCU Consulting Partner Network

There is no better time to consider or reconsider how you and your institution can position for the future.

Decisions at the local, state, and federal levels are made every day that impact institutions, students, communities, the workforce, and economy. State colleges and universities are particularly challenged as they try to navigate ever-changing political landscapes, fiscal conditions and policy changes that impact their ability to successfully serve students and their communities. Strengthening relationships, building new connections, and increasing influence with elected officials is critical for success in good and bad times.

Institutional Advancement and fundraising have long been a part of higher education. Public higher education institutional advancement areas spend a great deal of time and resources, with commensurate success, focused on researching, cultivating, and stewarding private donors. But they often fall short in engaging one of the largest donors for public state colleges and universities — the state and federal governments that make significant policy and funding decisions that impact colleges and universities.

These donors, i.e., elected officials, influencers, and others, need the same ongoing engagement and connection to campuses and systems to get better results. Public higher education institutions need to find ways to compete for resources and ensure that legislative and/or executive branches of government protect the quality of programs, support students, faculty, and staff and value the contributions of their institutions overall. A similar focus and energy should also be directed to the research, cultivation, and stewardship of these public donors.

Elected officials serve you and your constituents better if they are well-informed and understand the impact of policy and budget actions on local campuses and communities. Regular, quality engagement with decisionmakers and their influencers makes a difference and, most importantly, get results. How to accomplish this is unique to each campus and system.

Campus and system leaders are key to the success of any advocacy and external relations strategy. At the same time, they cannot do it alone; alumni, students, community, and business leaders, and even donors should be a part of an integrated strategy supported by an effective infrastructure.

Building an Advocacy Approach

The following steps have proven to lead to better external relations:

Assessment and PlanningConduct an in-depth examination of your current advocacy approach and capability and develop plan to create your successful approach to this important work.

· Are you getting the results you want for the institution?

· What is the status of your current connection and influence with policymakers and thought leaders?

· What parts of the institution should be involved in advocacy and external relations?

· What are your immediate and long-term objectives?

Community Outreach and Advocacy — A comprehensive, all-campus approach with shared responsibilities is the most effective way to increase your institutions’ presence, influence and standing with decisionmakers and those that an influence them on your behalf. Case studies also show that using “third-party advocates” can be more effective with many audiences. To the extent possible, campuses should utilize such supporters throughout their efforts.

· Who are your story tellers today?

· Are there influencers that need to be a part of your work?

· What if any new partners should be invited to help with your efforts?

· What role, if any, can other organizations, local government leaders, business and community leaders play in your efforts?

Perfect Timing

Given so many changes our society has faced over the last few years on a variety of fronts, there is no better time to consider or reconsider how you and your institution can position for the future. The key goal is making sure that your contribution to students, community and the economy are recognized and supported.

How we can help:

The team at Karen Zamarripa Consulting can assess your advocacy and external relations infrastructure to find ways to strengthen and expand your connection with influencers and decisionmakers as well as enhance your reputation in your community and make recommendations for opportunities to strengthen campus/system advocacy and communications infrastructure to get results. They can also work with your institution to develop a strategic plan to guide new advocacy and community relations efforts and can assist in the implementation of the new plan and/or training for the leadership team as well as advocacy partners.

Karen Y. Zamarripa and Owen Holmes are award-winning advocacy professionals with over five decades of experience in public higher education external relations advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels. Both have demonstrated success in strategic planning, community outreach, communications and advocacy that can make a difference for any organization. And they can be of help to your institution.

For more information on how AASCU Consulting or our partners can help your institution, go to




AASCU Consulting on Strategy, Leadership Effectiveness, and Capacity Building.

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