Go Out and Paint the Fire Hydrants!

When firefighters aren’t out putting out fires or responding to medical emergencies, what do you think they spend their time doing? Well, they are usually out painting fire hydrants or getting ready to battle a fire. 

That was one of the many lessons Joe Stewart shared with attendees at AENC’s Government Relations Roundtable last week. The same is true for advocacy in associations. Its not enough to get members engaged on a certain issue, you have to always be engaged. There is always something to do related to advocacy, even when there isn’t a crisis.

Big thanks also to Beth Grace (Executive Director) and Laura Nakoneczny (Membership Director) from the NC Press Association and Chris Sinclair, Cornerstone Solutions for sharing their wisdom, too.

Other insights into advocacy:

– You must make sure to educate members about staying on point when discussing legislative issues with government officials. A legislator will never understand your issues as well as you do. Get members disciplined on your issues. Make sure they know the impact of certain issues and how the legislator can impact your business.

– Don’t stray from the talking points and start discussing politics. Also, make sure your members are “solid” on your issues. They can’t be talking to legislators if they are on the fence on certain issues. 

– Make sure you mange association member’s expectations on legislative issues. The process of influencing legislation is a long-term process. Members often need to be reminded that is not that your issues aren’t important, its just that others are more important right now.

– Don’t simply rely on email to get the attention of legislators. You have to combine all outreach to be effective – personal visits, letter writing, phone calls, advertising in local newspapers, along with email.

– Survey your members regularly to make sure you know what legislators with whom they have connections. Its not enough to say you know Sen. Hunt, it needs to go deeper. Such as we went to college together or my brother is his dentist, etc.

– Make sure you have an idea where your members are making contributions outside of the PAC. If you have a member that contributes regularly to Sen. Rucho, you need to know that.

– Another way to keep members engaged in the legislative process is by hosting local chapter or association dinners. Invite legislators to attend these events. Make sure you have two types of presentations ready – one for when legislators are there and another when one isn’t that covers PAC, grassroots, etc. You have to be willing to go out to the members and always stress how important advocacy is to the success of the profession. Also, invite legislators or other regulatory folks to come out and visit an office on a local level, visit one of your member facilities or your practice. You have to put all things on a local level. Make sure to quietly share with legislators the good things you are doing in the community.

– You should have a committee or task force established that is always seeking information from members about regulatory issues that impact them.

– Using public relations to change perception can be a good component to effective advocacy. Your message isn’t about getting people to like you, but about getting folks to hate you less.

– Identify young people in your association that can be trained and educated on the issues with a focus on advocacy.

– One of the greatest ways to upset the bubble of a legislator is when you get the general public to respond. Its one thing when a REALTOR from your districts complains about the potential mortgage deduction, but when you have a member of the general public call or write a letter, its begins to make traction. 

– Don’t forget, as an association, get your members to get their customers to advocate for your issues. Make sure they reach-out to all their spheres of influence.

– If you are going to go public with a policy issue, you have to be willing to go big and use multi-channels – Capital Tonight (News 14), NC Spin, local newspapers. and radio. This is in addition to the calls, letters, emails, etc. You have to be willing to thump a legislator upside the head (metaphorically speaking of course).

– And lastly, and one of the most important, make sure to thank legislators for their work on your issues.