Associations are far more than just ways for professionals in the same industry to get together and socialize. When organized the right way, they can bring about significant social and political change.
In this space, we’ve extensively covered the potential for professional development within this type of organizational structure. Through trainings, webinars, and larger events, trade and government associations can help their members become better professionals and ultimately advance in the field.
But it doesn’t end there. In fact, managed the right way, your association could have a significant impact on policy. In that context, it can bring the entire profession forward through targeted initiatives.
To make that happen, you need to connect your members with the policies, starting at the state level. Yes, some national associations have an impact beyond that, as well. But it would be a mistake to not start smaller, at the level where much of the policy-making with an actual impact on your profession and industry occurs. Consider implementing these 6 ways in which associations can impact state level politics, sorted from least to most resource-intensive.
1) Keep Your Members Informed
The first step is also the most natural. For your association to become an active advocacy group, you have to get your members involve. Above all, that means sharing relevant information about current and upcoming bills in a timely manner.
The ways you communicate depend on your capabilities. Regular website updates are a must, and so are opportunities to share information in direct communication through emails, push notifications, and more. The more channels you utilize, the better.
Depending on your association management system, this might be a manual process. In that case, it becomes more involved, and might actually jump some of the below opportunities. Look for software that allows you to easily aggregate and share information about current bills, just as it becomes relevant.
2) Allow Your Membership to Express Their Voice
Of course, advocacy is far from a one-way street. You also have to make sure that as you share information, your members actually can take action on it. The mere fact that they’re part of your association is a vital piece. As one recent study shows, members of any advocacy group tend to be more active in the political process than their counterparts who are not.
That’s a natural assumption to make. After all, your members are joined together in a common cause that affects all of them. Still, you cannot rely on that assumption alone. Instead, find ways to help your members communicate with state-level legislators, from sharing contact information to preparing messages that each of them can send out with a simple click.
3) Provide Association Resources to Legislators
As your association grows, chances are you will become locally and regionally known as experts in the industry or profession you represent. If you act strategically, you can leverage that reputation to enact real political and policy change.
For example, consider making some of your most trusted and accomplished members available as subject matter experts on the legislative or regulatory hearing. They might just be able to make a difference in persuading the government officials in the room about a topic they might not have known much about.
This strategy might not be obvious, but many associations are beginning to use it to great effect. The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, for instance, recommends it in an open whitepaper to its members on the topic of advocacy.
4) Build an Online Advocacy Network
Yes, you can send real-time information about legislation and regulations to your members. And yes, you can help them communicate with the elected official responsible for a bill that might hurt or help the profession. But ultimately, your goal should be going further.
Powerful stances on given policy can make an impact. But even more importantly, you should help your members build relationships with their legislators. Build an online advocacy network that helps you not just push your opinion and voice through, but broaden your understanding of your state legislature on a wider level.
5) Take an Active Role in Supporting Policy
Of course, you can also take more obvious routes to make your voice heard. Some of these might sound familiar to you, and not all of them might match your mission or vision for the association. Still, they have been used to great effect in supporting advocacy.
One option, of course, is to collect donations in support of a given policy. These donations can be used for advertisements supporting or opposing the policy, or in support or opposition of the politicians most closely associated with them.
Another option, especially if the state gets dire, is organizing a protest designed to catch news media attention. This final step needs to be thought through, and might not work well in a given situation or with a given association. But when successful, it can send a powerful message to your state capitol.
6) Invest in Professional Advocacy
Finally, you can use association budget or donations to hire professional advocates to represent your profession and industry at the state government. Professional advocates or lobbyists will build relationships, advocate for given policies, and make the connections necessary to help your association in the long run.
Again, this is not always a popular stance, and also takes significant resources. Determine carefully whether this is the right step, and involve your members in the discussion process. Then, study up on state laws related to lobbying to make sure your efforts always remain legal and in concert with the law.
How to Invest in Improving Your Advocacy Efforts
Investing in advocacy might be as simple as a communication plan, or as complex as hiring a full-time lobbyist. No matter which end of the spectrum you land on, you can find an option that helps you leverage your internal knowledge and membership base to drive lasting legislative change at the state level.
Of course, even the simplest steps described above can get complex without the right software in place. You need an association management system that helps you track bills, build reports, and allow your members to communicate directly with your legislators. We have built Engagifii with these capabilities in mind, helping you build your legislative power and engagement to improve your industry.