It is a skilled position. The longer you do it, the better off you’re supposed to get at it.
But where does the money come from?
Well, I’ll give you a short answer and example. For the most part these organizations are funded by grants from foundations and government entities.
Let’s just say I hit the powerball and became a billionaire. I’d setup “The Douglas Family Foundation” and put $100 million of it in an endowment and give grants based on the interest earned off that $100 million every year on issues important to me. If you know me, you know this foundation’s portfolio would aim to end the pipeline to prison through funding HBCU styled marching bands and music programs, increasing voter turnout from zip codes similar to the one I grew up in, and building a real re-entry program for those returning to society. I’d also have some stuff in there to support single mothers, too.
Let’s just say I was conservative with my funds and put it in a simple money market account yielding 1% per year. That would mean The Douglas Family Foundation” could grant $1million per year just off the interest.
If we split that money up into four grants, each organization might get $250,000.
The director of the foundation would be responsible for finding organizations tied to our goals, so they find an after school program already working with HISD schools on music education. If their program fits the goals of our foundation, they might get that $250,000 grant to pay staff, buy instruments, etc.
But there’s catch. The grant might have specific requirement that force them to change their program a bit in order to qualify.
That’s basically how that stuff works, and there are donors and foundations for many issues out there.
Sorry friends, it’s time for yet another story…
I know you’re probably reading this like “Won’t he just get through it already.”
But, I find it easiest to illustrate things with stories, metaphor, symbolism, etc.
Back in 2012 when I was working for TOP, I’d had a flat just as I was pulling into the parking garage at my apartment building. This was one of those situations where you could get mad at the flat, but then be thankful because it happened in the best place possible.
Anyway, I pulled into my spot, pulled out the spare tire and jack, and got to work changing the tire.
I’d never done this before, and I didn’t do it that day either.
After a few attempts trying to get the lug nut off, I was having no luck. I hopped on my phone and looked up mobile mechanics in my zip code on Craigslist. I called around explaining what I needed and eventually found someone who would come and change the tire for me.
Before he arrived, one of my friends showed up and saw me still attempting to take the first lug nut off my car to no avail.
As the mobile mechanic showed up with one of those drill thingies in hand, he asked “Durrel, you called a mechanic to change your tire,” as if it was a big deal.
“It’s not that hard, you could’ve done it yourself,” he said.
As I paid the mobile mechanic that $60 fee, my friend shook his head. In his head, this was a waste of money, but in my head I’d prefer to pay someone $60 to do something in 5 minutes instead of saving $60 and taking an hour of my time.
Sure, if I were stranded somewhere without cell phone coverage, I could figure it out if I had to, but that wasn’t the case.
And that’s the BEST way I can describe what Consultants and Lobbyists do.
Let’s go back to my first illustration where my friends and I were at the bar and the other folks got wind of the direction the music was going for the night and tried to “change” the situation.
In their heads, the answer was to go up to the jukebox and pay to change the songs.
A consultant specializing in bar music would know that the Touchtunes app exists and have a relationship with the bar manager who could override the selections I made by unplugging and replugging the jukebox.
That’s why consultants get the big bucks.
I’ve worked to pass legislation and/or influenced meaningful issue-based program in 27 of the 50 states. I know grass tops and elected officials/staffers in many of these, but I don’t accept every offer that comes my way.
Sure, an organization could piss away hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence a legislative committee on public education to get their bill passed, but who knows if it would work, or how long it might take.
A lobbyist might know the chair of that committee personally, or perhaps know the chair’s chief of staff to get that meeting setup.
A consultant might know the details of each of the committee members’ districts, and that there’s a tire plant in the Vice Chair’s district that donates a lot to his campaign and provides thousands of jobs to his constituents.
That consultant might reach out to the owner of said tire plant for a meeting explaining over drinks what the bill is about, and get him to influence the elected official.
See where I’m going with this?
It’s chess, not checkers.
And THAT is why consultants can command big bucks.
But how do they find consultants/lobbyists?
Lobbyists are registered with the entity they’re lobbying, so there’s a registry. For instance, those lobbying at the State Capitol are in a searchable database.
Consultants are found via word of mouth for the most part. The circles these folks run in are very small, and reputation goes a long way.
How do big companies and organizations choose attorneys? Yeah, like that.
For what it’s worth, I’ve NEVER worked on an issue I didn’t agree with, or for a campaign I didn’t genuinely care for.
For instance, in 2012 when Carol Alvarado was running against Sylvia Garcia for the State Senate, I PERSONALLY supported Alvarado, but my organization had endorsed Garcia.
Initially, I was on board because I was paid to do so. But as time went on, I couldn’t do it.
My heart wouldn’t let me.
While I would eventually come around to admire Garcia today, at the time I was so upset about how the plays had been made that my conscious wouldn’t let me speak genuinely about Garcia. I would literally get sick to my stomach using the talking points our organization had created.
I went to our Executive Director at the time and explained my issue, and I was allowed to help with other campaigns we’d endorsed.
However, in 2016 even though I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary, my union’s international had endorsed Hilary Clinton. Even though she wasn’t my pick, It wasn’t hard doing my job that time. After the primary, it was even easier.
Dang, I didn’t expect to write so much, and don’t feel like going back through to edit what I wrote so I’m throwing it up As-Is. This low-key has me wanting to start another book project while my current one “5 Years in Prison” ain’t finished yet. I’d point out how race plays a role behind the scenes at many nonprofits who work primarily in Black/Brown communities, and include my recommendations/observations as one of the few young black men working in this space.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments, or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll go back and include answers to interesting questions to this post in the future if any come in.
Now off to find a glass of something brown in a glass, with ice.