Associations need its' members to become more engaged on advocating for or against an issue. Without member support, the association's lobbyist has little standing to advance or oppose an issue.
What are the barriers to getting more members involved?
Time, lack of interest, distrust of our elected officials?
To have a successful advocacy program, associations first need the agenda. What issue is the association advancing. opposing or staying neutral on?
This conversation should begin by convening a legislative taskforce to discuss and debate issues, and create a set of principles for the association to support. By having a set of principles, instead of an agenda, will give association leadership greater flexibility on advancing issues, and the opportunity to act quickly on issues with the support of the org behind them.
When associations have such diverse interests, a set of principles are easier to agree on and makes it more comfortable for members to start a conversation with a lawmaker on issues affecting the association membership.
Those principles will then set the foundation for your agenda.
In advancing that agenda, some association have a lobby day in their state capitol or a fly-in to Washington. They start with a breakfast, bring in a speaker, such as a Member of the House or Senate and then provide their members with the talking points and appointments with lawmakers and staff.
While talking points are good for everyone to stay on message, many members will rely on them and read from the actually page or card given to them. Those talking points are best left to staff to tee up an issue to a legislator. The staff person should thank the member for their time, lay out the issue and then let the member fill in the blanks by bringing the issue home to their company and into the legislator's district.
The stories told by your member to the lawmaker will impact how that lawmaker votes on issue. The association's legislative and communications staff can help bring that story out, share it through social media and create a leave-behind that lays out the issue in a way to make a meaningful impact.
Before you even get to the capitol, associations should introduce lawmakers to your members to let your members know that legislators are or should be approachable. Your membership needs to know that legislators are people who we put in office and are or should be accountable. This should start with the association bringing lawmakers to your members and into their shops, factories and offices. These informal meet and greets will go along way in developing strategic relationships for future engagement. It will also form the basis for creating a key contact program.
Finally, associations can provide its members with a good story to tell. Lawmakers love a good story. Better yet, they like something that they can point to in justifying a vote, particularly if it stems from their district.
You can learn more about how associations can build up grassroots advocacy efforts to strategically engage Congress and the legislature from the podcast, Association Impact, with Michigan Society of Association Executive CEO Cheryl Ronk.