The short answer is yes!  Many association leaders struggle with the issue of advocacy. Would the organization loose its non-profit status if it took a position for or against something in the legislature.

In creating their legislative agenda, associations should ask 3 Questions:

  • Who do I know?
  • What do I know?
  • What do I want to tell them?

Even before they get to those questions, association leaders need to re-think who their members are and how their expertise can prove vital to educating lawmakers and their staff. The members should drive the agenda and will let association leadership know what issues are important to them.

However, associations are fragmented, representing a diversity of interests and cannot be seen supporting one member over another. Association boards are diverse, including diverging political leanings.

As a result, before an agenda is created association leadership should create a set of pillars or issues, along with broad positions on issues we may find important.

The principles will also help determine if the association:

  • Stays out of an advocacy campaign
  • Forms a coalition or joins one that is already engaged.
  • Step back and work to educate others behind the scenes.

These principles will form the agenda for an association to advance and help define what they stand for. 

Regardless of the agenda, the association will have to constantly educate our elected officials and their staff, about the issues and our role if any in the past. There is a huge turnover in government as a result, leadership needs to spend a lot time retelling their story and going over their success. 

Starting the conversation however, is a great opportunity to invite lawmakers into your members offices, factories and cities. Creating opportunities for lawmakers to develop personal relationships with your members is crucial to advancing any agenda. By bringing elected officials to your members you are also working to reduce the stigma that Members of Congress or the state legislature are untouchable.  We put them in office and it is important that we keep them engaged in our businesses.

For more details on associations driving the legislative agenda, visit the podcast, Association Impact, hosted by Michigan Society Association Executive CEO,  Cheryl Ronk where she interviewed me on this issue.