The Art of Birddogging

Volunteers in Iowa meet with presidential candidate Kamala Harris at a rally.

Bird dogging is a tried and true way to get candidates on the record. Here at Save the Children Action Network (SCAN), we’re proud of our advocates who use their voices to bird dog candidates running for office. Before I can give you some tips of the trade, I think it’s a good idea to address the elephant in the room: What is bird dogging?  

Bird dogging is the term for asking candidates for public office about specific topics while on the campaign trail. The tactic helps to bring up new issues or ideas to the debate and to learn more about how candidates will work to solve problems. Bird dogging is an old hunting term and indicates pursing a person with dogged determination. 

Engaging with candidates is not scary when you know what you’re doing. Follow these tips below and you’ll be good to go:

  • Do your homework. It’s hard to challenge someone that knows their facts. Do some research and have some data points in your back pocket if needed. One of my favorite lines to use when meeting with lawmakers is that a child’s brain is mostly developed before age 5, which is why early education is so important.For more facts, explore our website.
  • Share your story. Once you got your facts, it’s time to share why you care and why the candidate should, too. I care about early education and kids because when volunteering throughout high school and college at childcare centers in impoverished areas in Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore. I saw what happens or rather, what could happen to kids when they miss out on educational programs during their earliest years. That’s why today I fight to make sure our youngest neighbors are represented at the table.What’s your story? Do you know someone who benefited from preschool or high-quality child care? Are you a parent or a teacher? Tell them about the important kids in your life!
  • Wear it loud, wear it proud. I can’t stress the importance of gearing up and wearing the brand/cause you’re representing. When you show up in a SCAN shirt or wearing a button, you’re setting up future SCAN volunteers for success as the candidate will recognize the red shirts at future events and know we’re not going away. A picture with candidates in our SCAN shirt counts as a bonus!

It makes a real impact. SCAN volunteers in Tennessee met with candidates for governor over 71 times in 2018. Towards the end of the election, now Governor Bill Lee (R) and his staff had met with our advocates so many times that they knew when they saw the red shirts coming his way, it was time to talk about what he was going to do to help kids!

  • Do not be afraid. You may be a little nervous and this may be a step outside of your comfort zone, but that’s okay. Repeat after me: big things happen when we take a baby step outside of our comfort zone. Remember that you are talking to a human being just like yourself! They may have a larger media presence and an even bigger entourage than you, but at the end of the day, candidates have children in their lives, too, and care about their well-being just like you do.
  • Have your questions prepared. The best way to beat nerves is to be EXTRA prepared. Growing up I played the saxophone and had to memorize a solo every year for a solo contest. I remember my instructor always stressing practice. At the end of the day, no matter how nervous I got or how shaky my fingers were, I’d remember my memorized solo because it had become second nature. Practice your questions, say them to friends or in the mirror. The more prepared, the better!

Click here to get involved with our High 5 for Kids campaign and gear up for 2020. No time better than the present to put your bird dogging hat on!

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Jessica Lach is Save the Children Action Network’s Digital Campaign Manager based in DC. She is passionate to work for moms and kids all over the world and is proud of her previous work advocating for those in need. She also loves her mutt, Toby!