Revamping Your Association’s Government Relations Strategy
How often do you think about why your association exists in the first place?
With few exceptions, most Canadian non-profit associations were created to provide advocacy and a strong voice on public policy issues for their members. Over time, I’ve seen associations adopt a natural tendency to think of government relations as something only done when a policy disaster arises. Our daily routine is focused on membership sales, collecting dues, paying bills, financial planning, preparing for board meetings, writing the monthly newsletter, and selling sponsorships for that next big event.
Then, unexpectedly, a crisis lands at our door, and members are concerned. It could be a new restrictive law, a new tax, or a change to program funding. So, we hit the government relations panic button. We convene a meeting of the political action committee that hasn’t met in 12 months. We write hasty, strongly-worded letters to politicians demanding an urgent meeting. We pay for expensive lobbyists by dipping into our financial reserves. Then, too often, we realize it’s too late. The government has decided on its course of action. Members are angry. Confidence in your association plummets. The board wonders what went wrong.
Sound familiar? It doesn’t have to be this way.
Plan for Government Relations Needs
There are practical ways to develop a strong plan to ensure your government relations are as much a part of your routine as all of your other association business. This involves abandoning tired, obsolete methods of lobbying for a more professional approach to building constructive partnerships with governments and stakeholders. Some of the building blocks involve an understanding of the inter-dependent relationship between governments and associations. After all, governments and politicians need you as much as you need them–and your association can use this to your members’ advantage. Instead of hiring high-priced lobbyists, you can take active steps to build a long-term, strategic GR plan that will enable you to effectively advocate on behalf of your members in any political situation—mitigating the need to worry over who will win the next election.
Associations have a responsibility to engage government. It’s one of the main reasons we exist. If we deliver government relations effectively, our associations can accomplish policy changes that our members can’t achieve on their own – which is why many of our members join in the first place.
Join Mike for an exploration of government relations planning at his session, Reboot Your Government Relations Strategy for 2020 and Beyond, at the Annual Conference & Showcase in Ottawa.