How should our association establish a government affairs program?

As a first step in establishing a government affairs program, your association has to first determine the need for the program, make a formal commitment and fund the public policy program. For a program to be successful there must be buy-in by the association president, executive committee, the association board and senior staff.

Once this is confirmed, a government affairs chair should be selected. The association’s government affairs committee should emerge as a very high profile committee within the association. The chair must be a proven and tested leader who can continually sell, promote and motivate committee members and keep the president, executive committee and executive director well informed of the accomplishments and challenges and resources needed to be effective.

The association committee should have an array of members from different perspectives, some should be politically astute, others should have subject-matter expertise, while others should be visionaries. The committee chair, with the counsel of the association president and the executive director, should hand-pick the members of these committees to ensure a balanced, well-rounded committee comprised of members that complement one another’s respective strengths.

Once the committee is established, the association membership should be informed of the formation of the committee. Their participation should be requested and a survey should be conducted to assist in the identification of industry-wide issues affecting the membership that may be considered by any level of government. For example, the association would want to find out about the members’ experience with state and local governmental entities, licensing bodies and regulatory requirements. The first order of business for the association committee should be to develop a mission statement, utilizing the survey information gathered from member companies.

The mission statement will guide the committee in composing the public policy platform, which should espouse the advancement of the members’ business interests. The platform should be adopted by the association board and should essentially remain unchanged over time. This process should be facilitated by your chosen government affairs professional in a strategic planning session. Specific legislative goals need to be determined periodically contingent upon current political climates, emerging issues and most importantly, the needs of the association members to own and operate their businesses in an environment with the appropriate level of governmental regulation. Identification of goals requires careful consideration of accessible resources to attain those goals.

An association’s resources include funding as well as the subject-matter expertise of the association’s members, and the members’ personal relationships with legislators. After completion of the initial steps to establishing a government affairs program, the association must market the program to public policymakers, members, peripheral trade groups and the trade media through a comprehensive public relations campaign that involves the creation and dissemination of a government affairs brochure, electronic newsletters, a web page and other alerts as appropriate.

The association’s web site should contain a government affairs link to provide the membership with up-to-the-minute information related to your program including: the mission, platform, goals, priority bills, committee members and a link for members to join the grassroots network. Keeping the membership informed so they feel as if they are active participants is critical to the success of the program, as a well informed membership serves as an additional information resource and a strong grassroots network that will enhance your overall advocacy efforts. While the establishment of your association’s governmental affairs program requires a significant commitment, the actions and results of the program can be critical to the long-term success of your members and the association as a whole.

Has your association recently started a governmental affairs program? What have the most challenging elements been?

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