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Create a Culture of Advocacy

By: Anne D. DarConte, CAE and Thomas R. Rosenfield

The government shutdown is over – at least temporarily. A new Congress is at work. 38 state legislatures, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are in session. Your public policy priorities are in place.

Create a Culture of Advocacy

Creating a culture of advocacy may be the most underdeveloped aspect of any external relations strategy.

Protecting your company’s license to operate or advancing your association’s mission often requires advocacy to remove threats or promote positive solutions and policies. Successful engagement and outreach can provide some of the highest value to your customers, members, and investors. Now that’s great ROI.

Creating a culture of advocacy should be part of your company’s core values and mission, but it does take time. As with all organizational values, external relations and government relations should be fundamental to the decisions, actions, and commitment of both the board and senior personnel. This leadership behavior will provide a standard that others expect and emulate. A positive culture of advocacy creates value and instills a sense of pride to all who work for and do business with your organization.

Inventory Your Government Relations Assets

While for-profit and non-profit businesses routinely evaluate ROI for other activities, government relations is often overlooked. That’s a mistake. Instead, take stock of your GR capabilities annually. Assess company-wide resources and department capabilities.

Review the organization’s operating expenses, budgets, and reserves. Is there an opportunity to fund a new initiative? Is there potential to raise new revenues through alternative funding sources?

Assess the people resources, starting with your internal staff. Do they have sufficient bandwidth and the right expertise? Your customers, vendors, stockholders, members and retirees are additional stakeholders and may be an available asset. Have you surveyed any or all of these groups lately and are you tapping any of them to assist in advocacy work? Additionally, consider the quality of your relationships with government decision makers at all levels.

Review the strength of your message. What is the internal and external perception of your company, industry or profession? The strength of your image affects the level of resources required to develop and convey a targeted message to stakeholder groups, including policy makers.

Consider which tactics and tools could strengthen your strategy and add them. Think about the roadblocks that you and your team ran into in the past and make adjustments. Perhaps this is the time to add a new component to your GR technology, revamp your Capitol Hill Day structure, implement an in-district grassroots program, provide professional development training to an eager staffer, or renegotiate a lobbying contract.

Leverage Other In-House Resources

You and your colleagues in other departments are all serving the same mission, so it makes sense to align activities, create synergies, and strengthen customer and member value.

When colleagues don’t understand what GR does, they will not support your strategy. Correct this with some simple education. Share information about policy issues, including the importance to the organization and its stakeholders. Communicate the value of constituent engagement with lawmakers.

Learn more about what your coworkers do too. Brainstorm on ways their expertise can strengthen your activities. Identify data gaps, technology challenges, or communication shortcomings that need to be resolved.

Technology staff or association membership colleagues may manage data which could support your policy positions. The more these associates know about your needs, the better they can help to collect and evaluate relevant data.

Another place to look for synergies is your communications department. These experts are responsible for spreading the word about your association to multiple audiences. As they are creating and refining messages, they can target relevant audiences with GR information via traditional and digital channels. They can also help you fine-tune your materials to ensure they are consistent with your company brand.

Enhance External Relationships

Coalitions have always been a practical method for raising the collective policy position voice as well as broadening the reach to policymakers. But they are meant to be temporary. Assess the various coalitions your organization has been active in and consider whether all are still relevant to your GR priorities.

Brainstorm about new partners that might be interested in working together on your priority issues. Search online for information about your policy priorities and note who is being affected and quoted. Make time to meet with these stakeholders to discuss common interests and ways to collaborate.

Consider using the power of celebrity to further your cause. A high-profile ally can open doors, especially with leadership offices, and attract media attention. If you’ve taken stock of your existing and potential resources and believe you’ve come up short, make it a priority to institute change. As you move forward or policy priorities change, continue to self-evaluate and implement step changes that support the organization’s GR ROI.