Archive for Sunday, January 12, 2014

KU’s Hawk Points try to focus lobbying efforts through alumni

January 12, 2014

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Since last fall, Kansas University and the KU Alumni Association have been equipping a small army of volunteers with bulleted talking points in hopes they will spread the university's message throughout the state.

Called "Hawk Points," they distill many of the numbers and selling points KU administrators emphasize when making their case to state leaders. The talking points have been dispensed to volunteers with Jayhawks for Higher Education, an advocacy group run by the Alumni Association in coordination with the university.

The Hawk Points are partly the brainchild of Tim Caboni, KU vice chancellor for public affairs. Caboni said the points are a way to engage KU's supporters, in a focused way, throughout the legislative cycle. The wording comes out of the KU's public affairs and communications departments, which have become more coordinated and centralized under Caboni's leadership, and are timed around key decision-making times in the state government.

"They're succinct, simply understood talking points," Caboni said of them. Caboni hopes that the 1700 KU alumni volunteers with Jayhawks for Higher Education and others will go on to "share our story with everyone with whom they interact."

That includes interacting with Kansas legislators, but also friends, family and acquaintances at dinner, during the holidays, while watching Kansas basketball — whenever and whomever possible.

Whether that has happened is hard to say. The Alumni Association gives users on its website a portal for emailing lawmakers, which is something they can track. Jennifer Jackson Sanner, Alumni Association senior vice president for communications, said that from March through the end of the legislative session in 2013, users sent 887 messages to 133 members of the Kansas House and Senate.

As to whether people drop into everyday conversation nuggets from the Hawk Points such as "the (KU) Cancer Center produced a 13-to-1 return on investment for state funding from 2007 to 2012" — that is harder, if not impossible, to track.

The ranks of Jayhawks for Higher Education have grown by 400 in the past year and represent nearly every Kansas county, Sanner said. It is certainly not unusual among university lobbying organization. Nor is it unique in the state. The Kansas State University Alumni Association has a similar organization called Wildcats for Higher Education.

But given that Kansas is one of the few states in the country to cut funding for its public universities, the stakes around KU's outreach efforts could be higher than elsewhere in the country.

The majority of the Hawk Points focus on KU's budget, its economic impact in Kansas and the role of state funding. Letters to volunteers and alumni point out the $13.5 million in cuts to Kansas universities passed by the 2013 legislature.

Ultimately the Hawk Points try to turn KU-friendly amateurs into advocates and lobbyists while keeping the message as uniform as possible.

"Message discipline is incredibly important in what we do," Caboni said.

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