Advocates with impact.
Beer is good for your health.
Changing an area code can endanger lives.
Moving the position of a product label can cause companies to lose millions of dollars.
The messages vary; still each one highlights a special interest of people joined by professional or industrial concerns.
ASAE Public Policy Committee Chairman Steve Anderson has no problem with that. The president and chief executive officer of the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), McLean, Virginia, doesn't see a need to apologize for association advocacy, but rather to raise awareness of this process. Noting that opponents of associations have filled the words special interest and lobbying with negative connotations - and, in doing so, have spurred unwarranted restrictions on associations' government relations work - Anderson suggests using the phrase "First Amendment advocacy."
He explains: "Basically what all associations are doing is representing members," who collectively make up most of the population of the United States. "Somehow we have to convey to members of Congress that our members are their constituents."
No need to make the argument with Representative Karen Thurman (D - FL). :Just because you're a special-interest person, that doesn't necessarily make you somebody bad," she says. Thurman says she recognizes that people work on particular issues based on the goals of their organizations and that it's natural to advocate their positions. "We live off information," she says of the work of legislators; "for people not to talk to us is dangerous."
And better that your people speak on behalf of your association than stay silent while your opponents do all the talking. "You must be prepared to undertake advocacy in order to define who you are and what you stand for," states Red Cavaney, CAE. "Otherwise you invite your opponent in a battle over a public policy issue to mischaracterize you and your motives." Cavaney stays active on the legislative front at the state, federal, and international levels as president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based 501 (c) (6) association with a membership of 401 companies, a staff of 470, and an annual budget of $89 million.
What each of the three messages at the start of this article have in common - along with the countless position statements of America's associations combined - is what gets them heard: advocates with impact. People like Anderson and Cavaney, and associations like the ones they oversee, are advocates who have been effective and from whom others can apply ideas for getting government relations results.
Juggling legislative priorities
As this article was being developed in March, country-of-origin labeling on frozen foods was a front-burner issue for AFFI. The 501(c)(6) association's 600 members are companies that buy produce domestically and internationally and package it for sale as frozen food. The Tariff Act of 1930 calls for the country-of-origin labeling of imported product on each package in a conspicuous place, a practice with which frozen-food packagers have been complying. However, according to Anderson, AFFI opponents - whom he identifies as some U.S. producers who are trying to discourage people from buying products grown overseas - want the label on the front panel of the product, which is the most conspicuous spot, "which is not what the law says." He points out, "The United States must ensure that country-of-origin requirements are not allowed to be misused as nontariff barriers to trade or as anticompetitive measures."
Days after discussing this issue with ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT, Anderson was celebrating the Food and Drug Administration's decision to allow frozen fruits and vegetables to be labeled and sold as "healthy" foods. The FDA said that the frozen-food industry had proved, with evidence presented by AFFI, that frozen products can contain as many nutrients as fresh - and sometimes more.
These two issues could get lost in AFFI's annual report describing the many legislative challenges the association is addressing with its staff of 20, including 6 dedicated to government relations, and an annual budget of $5 million. As the public's interest in particular issues changes, and as legislators take action, AFFI's focus adjusts.
The same holds true for many associations, especially the larger ones, such as the Chicago-based American Medical Association, a 501 (c) (6) organization with 300,000 members, 1,100 staff, and an annual budget of $220 million. AMA's Washington office director, Lee Stillwell, who served as ASAE's 1996-1997 Public Policy Committee chairman, was talking with ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT when As Good As It Gets was creating high-profile public debates along with theater crowds. According to Stillwell, because audiences had been reacting strongly to the movie's discussion of health-care problems, "it became obvious to politicians that people are concerned about the system; so [the issues of patient protection and quality care] are now rolling around, even though we have less than 50 days to go in this session of Congress."
That dynamic reinforced the high priority given to these issues by Stillwell, who serves as AMA's interim senior vice president of public- and private-sector advocacy. With a staff of 110 split between Washington and Chicago and an advocacy budget of $16.5 million, he tends to "a long laundry list of national and state issues; they move up or down the list depending on their immediacy and the opportunities that we see in Congress, the administration, and state legislatures."
Members carry the strongest message
National Beer Wholesalers Association President Ron Sarasin knows the benefit of grass-roots advocacy from having been on the other side of the table; as a representative from Connecticut between 1972 and 1978, he sought conversation with his constituents. Now overseeing the staff of 25 and annual budget of almost $6 million at NBWA, Alexandria, Virginia - a 2,700-member, 501(c) (6) organization whose mission centers on government relations - Sarasin sees to it that legislators involved in NBWA's issues hear from "the guy back home."
Unlike some associations, NBWA does not have a hard time convincing members to advocate. "Because beer distribution is a very heavily regulated industry, our members are well attuned to the need to be involved in government relations," Sarasin says. "They tend to be individuals who serve on school boards and zoning commissions and other forms of local government."
The community involvement of NBWA's members assists not only in garnering legislators' respect but also in building a positive image with the public. Sarasin describes beer distributors as active participants in community programs to help combat the negative image that antialcohol groups attempt to create of the beer industry. "We help with designated driver programs and the like," he says. "We don't want people abusing our product. If you drink it in moderation, however, it happens to be a healthy product."
It's not always easy to involve members. "Although engineers are creative problem solvers, they have a difficult time finding their comfort level with the irrationality and uncertainty of politics," says Greg Schuckman about the professionals represented by the American Association of Engineering Societies. Schuckman serves the Washington, D.C.-based AAES - a 501 (c) (3) federation with a 10-person office, 24 society members representing more than 800,000 engineers, and an annual. budget of $1.25 million - as director of government relations and media affairs. He notes that in Washington, because of political tradeoffs, "the technically correct solution to a public policy issue is not necessarily the optimal solution. Those trade-offs make engineers uncomfortable because many times they cannot understand how a politician can choose anything less than a decision based on sound science.
"Of course there are some exceptionally gifted engineering leaders who are politically savvy," Schuckman adds, mentioning Herbert Hoover, who served as the first president of AAES's predecessor organization before he was elected U.S. president. Most engineers, however, need a fair amount of coaching to be successful advocates.
In preparing members to advocate on AAES's issues, which range from funding for engineering research and development to environmental policy issues to issues of general professional concerns, Schuckman uses a key tool: Working With Congress: A Guide for Scientists and Engineers, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Last year AAES bought a copy of this engineer-authored book for every member of the association's public policy committee.
Grass roots are not always the best route. Last year Tanya Glazebrook tackled an issue that threatened the lives of her members. Medic Alert, Turlock, California, a $17 million membership organization with Glazebrook at the top of its 125-person staff as president and CEO, fought in 1997 to retain the 209 area code for the region in which the 501 (c) (3) organization is headquartered. The area code is engraved on the emblems worn by Medic Alert's 3 million members in North America, most of whom suffer from medical conditions or allergies, and all of whom count on protection from a 24-hour emergency response center in Turlock. (Medic Alert has an additional 2.4 million members outside of the United States and Canada, who were not affected by this issue.) Were the area code changed, the organization would have faced a daunting product recall, confusion among members and emergency teams, and the potential for disaster during medical emergencies. After careful consideration of the fear factor, Glazebrook explains, "we concluded that it would be inappropriate to notify all of our members about the possibility of the area code change and raise their anxiety level."
Glazebrook, well aware of the benefits of grassroots advocacy - a technique she uses with other types of issues her organization faces - sought in the area code case an effective alternative to involving members. "We utilized advocates on their behalf," she notes. By mobilizing such professionals as emergency physicians, nurses, and paramedics, Medic Alert was still able to take its case to county and state officials and do so with "real" people. They came from a coalition that Medic Alert developed that included other associations, businesses (including such major players as Gallo Winery and Foster Farms), government agencies, and individual professionals.
With a strong coalition and savvy advocacy strategies, Medic Alert won the support of officials who could influence the decision of the California Public Utilities Commission, and the commission decided in favor of not changing the area code in Medic Alert's region. However, an unusual appeal by a county that had a financial stake in the area code issue brought this controversy back to the surface. The coalition's renewed advocacy efforts resulted in this appeal being dismissed by the court and in the retention of area code 209 for Medic Alert's region.
Framing Issues effectively
Medic Alert's success in large part stemmed from its reframing of the area code issue from one based on money to one steeped in human safety concerns. Glazebrook explains: "The initial fight was over [which region] could better afford to spend a hundred million dollars to change its area code. But when we looked at the issue from a member's perspective, it became clear to us that the cost was not as significant a factor for us as the possibility of endangering a human life. We immediately put another card on the table that had not been considered at all, and in doing so we refocused not only the media's attention but that of the debaters on either side of the line."
With the area code change positioned as a major health and safety issue, Medic Alert's coalition went to work with a massive media campaign, bringing the human endangerment concern to the newspapers and to radio and TV stations. "We knew that the media would be a key player for us," says Glazebrook. "We knew that through the media we could generate responses from individuals throughout our county who would call their legislators, who would write to the utilities commission, who would speak to the governor - all of these people would advocate on our behalf."
Glazebrook offers these seven principles, which guided the actions taken in the area code debate, for effectiveness in advocacy efforts:
1. Monitor and assess external issues for organizational impact, and prioritize accordingly.
2. Understand the stages of an issue and the role of the media.
3. Use the issue to advance organizational interests.
4. Position the organization's interests in the public interest if appropriate.
5. Understand stakeholders, and build coalitions to foster collaboration.
6. Stay the course by maintaining focus on key objectives.
7. Be gracious in victory, and acknowledge support.
One member of the area code 209 coalition was the Irving, Texas-based American College of Emergency Physicians, whose executive director, Colin C. Rorrie, Jr., CAE, chairs Medic Alert's board. ACEP has been involved in many coalitions; in fact, by 1985, only 17 years after its founding, so many organizations were calling on ACEP to join them in advocacy efforts, the association established a Washington, D.C., office to handle the increasing government relations activity. Apart from joining coalitions at that time, ACEP was experiencing stepped-up government involvement in socioeconomic issues affecting emergency physicians. Today the 501 (c) (6) organization has 19,338 members and an annual budget of approximately $14.5 million. Of the total 97 staff members, 9 work in D.C. on national advocacy goals.
Rorrie relays this advice for building effective relationships with coalition partners:
* Choose partners who believe in your issues; "make sure there's compatibility."
* Recognize that the issue around which the coalition is formed may be your driving concern but may not be the chief focus of all your partners. "Capturing their time when you need it to advocate on your issue is a real challenge."
* Recognize that the coalition partners may be together on this issue but may be in opposition on other issues.
* Select the key issues in which you want to involve your association; many require a long-haul effort, so don't spread yourself too thin. "Be prepared to work hard to keep your members interested over an extended period of time in each issue you focus on."
Additional insights come from Paulette Maehara, CEO of the Landover, Maryland-based, 501 (c) (3) Epilepsy Foundation of America, which has 400 staff around the country, including 65 at headquarters, almost a million donors and active members combined, and a combined annual budget of $38 million. "We find that we're a much stronger, more effective voice when working in a coalition," says Maehara, who has extensive experience in partnering her foundation with other disability organizations. "But the challenge in working with a coalition is being able to come to an agreement on a key set of issues. While three groups might accept 10 principles that are broadly stated, one group may not. When this happens, you have to give up some of the ease and speed with which you achieve consensus when working only with members of your own organization. However, you benefit from being part of a powerful group."
Whether you go on behalf of one association or several joined, just go to your legislator's office, urges Steve Anderson. Using his volunteer work with ASAE as an example, he says, "In the past we did too much monitoring of what happened on Capitol Hill. Monitoring, then informing the membership, is important, but you have to do much more than that to be effective in representing your members. You have to be very much a part of the system - up on the Hill, meeting with staff, with members of Congress - in order to help shape legislation."
Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) agrees, and he advocates for personalized interaction with Congress. Mailing a postcard produced by your association is okay, he says, and sending a form e-mail is fine - all this correspondence gets processed by congressional staff. "But we're always more impressed when somebody takes time for a handwritten note, or at least sends a personalized e-mail, telling how an issue affects his or her life." Still, Foley comments, "Nothing beats old-fashioned, face-to-face commitment to an issue, where you convey to the member [of Congress] exactly what's the issue at hand."
Foley mentions that he likes to see in his D.C. office constituents from his district, but "just as important as going to Washington is contacting on a regular basis my staff in the district office," he says. "You cannot overlook that as an important tool in lobbying."
Two tips he has for visits:
* Be fully versed on the issues that affect your profession or industry. "Oftentimes people will come up here who are given a script written by their association and will only understand the nuances of that one sentence, and if the [congressional] member asks a deeper question, the [visitors] are unable to answer it - they kind of fall fiat. Understand the ramifications of the legislation on an average person, because most [congressional] members like to hear not necessarily what Washington thinks but, more importantly, how their districts will be impacted by whatever legislative policy issue is being considered."
* Don't act as if anybody owes you. "One of the worst things that I witness in this town is people coming in and saving 'We voted for you' or 'We gave you money.' People have to be somewhat cautious about bantering around that they were part of your campaign team. [Congressional] members will know that, and while you can mention it as you're leaving, saying, 'It was a pleasure to help you in your campaign,' it should never be mentioned during the main part of the meeting. It sours the meeting completely."
Additional visit pointers. What frustrates Representative Thurman is when a person comes in and advocates on an issue from strictly a national perspective; she wants to also know the impact on her state and her district.
In addition, Thurman wants follow-up. "I'm not necessarily going to keep up with your issue as well as you do," she cautions, noting her need to issue-hop each day. "So don't just come by one day and tell me about your issue and think that's the end of your responsibility."
But when a visit is not appropriate . . . As executive director of the Rockville, Maryland-based Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society, a 501 (c)(3) association with an annual budget of approximately $4 million, Sherry Keramidas, CAE, gets involved in what she calls "quasi-governmental affairs." So do RAPS's director of education and editor, but no one on the 18-member staff (plus three full-time equivalents in the Brussels office) is devoted to government relations.
"We don't do any lobbying," Keramidas says, noting that RAPS's 7,000 members track and submit health-care products to government agencies for approval. "If we were engaged in lobbying, it could be misconstrued by an agency as perhaps interfering with the review process."
Keramidas points out that her members work for companies that belong to trade associations that supply the needed advocacy. RAPS sees its role as educating RAPS members about issues affecting them and about the implications of actions taken by government agencies.
Officials from these agencies also attend RAPS educational events, so the association has the opportunity to inform them about the concerns of regulatory professionals. "But we don't necessarily advocate a change in a regulation," Keramidas says. "If there's a problem, we call it to their attention, but we have tried to avoid direct involvement."
Essentials for advocacy effectiveness
Robert Floyd, CAE, president of the 501(c) (6) Texas Society of Association Executives, Austin, is seasoned in state-level concerns as well as in national affairs from TSAE's work with ASAE. This executive, who oversees a staff of nine, a membership of 1,175, and a budget of $1 million, has several tips for advocacy success.
Essential for effectiveness, Floyd insists, is focus: "Organizations must stick to the issues that directly affect most of their members and not squander resources by being drawn into issues that don't. You may have a member who feels strongly about some single emotional issue," he says, but if that issue doesn't affect the industry or profession, stay away from it.
Also critical is involvement with the legislature on a continual basis - not only while it's in session, and not only when your association is in crisis. Says Floyd, "Building a relationship with a member of Congress or the state legislature takes time - it's a year-round process."
He also emphasizes the need to recognize that the political environment has changed. "There's more fragmentation, and you have to be able to work with not only Republican caucuses but with Democratic caucuses, Hispanic, African-American - caucuses of various ethnic groups and regional interests."
To this list of essentials Red Cavaney adds the need to treat each advocacy challenge individually. "There are dozens of ways to approach an issue," he says, "and each time you have to start from scratch. You can recall your past experience, of course, but try not to have it precolor your judgment of what you ought to do next time."
Lee Stillwell extends that thought: "Anytime we approach the Hill," he says of AMA's work, "it's done in what we call a '535-person strategy,' and that means that each legislator is treated individually. A relationship is built with each of them to make sure that each one understands medicine's agenda."
A final word from Floyd helps in distinguishing whether advocacy efforts are effective: "A political advocacy program is measured against one standard: Will it influence the vote? If your program does not influence votes at the state or national level, then you're really not into political advocacy."
For copies of any of the Government Relations newsletter articles listed among the resources below, send a request to ASAE's Ray Towle. E-mail: email@example.com. Fax: (202) 371-1673.
* "Associations That Roar - Via the Internet," by Geraldine C. Williamson, CAE, Government Relations (ASAE, June 1997)
* Electronic Democracy: Using the Internet to Influence American Politics, by Graeme Browning - to order via the Web, go to www.onlineinc.com/pempress/democracy/index.html
* "Fifty Pearls of Wisdom for Association Grassroots Programs," compiled by Robert A. Floyd, CAE - to obtain a copy of this list, contact Floyd. Phone: (512) 444-1974. Fax: (512) 444-5821.
* "Impact Washington Without Living There," by Colleen M. Nolan, Government Relations (ASAE, February 1998)
* Nonprofit Gateway - a Web site providing links to federal government information and services: www.nonprofit.gov
* "Small Associations Can Win Legislative Battles," by James Turpin, Government Relations (ASAE, March 1998)
* "Touch Plus Tech Plus Grass Roots Equals Power," by Jim Turpin, Government Relations (ASAE, April 1997)
RELATED ARTICLE: ASAE's Web-based Advocacy Service
Along with other associations exploring new avenues for reaching lawmakers is ASAE, which introduced in January the SALT Advocacy Center, a Web-based service of the State Action Legislative Team. This click-of-the-mouse member service supports the SALT mission - promoting legislation that will have a positive impact on associations - by making it quicker, easier, and less expensive for members to stay on top of issues and to communicate with legislators.
Visitors to ASAE's Web site (www.asaenet.org) can reach the SALT Advocacy Center through the Government Affairs page. The center includes frequently updated legislative issue descriptions and an "Act Now" function that allows users to send e-mail to their federal and state lawmakers. Users are given the option online of choosing pre-composed messages that communicate ASAE's position on a particular issue or writing an original message of their own. The center provides the names and e-mail addresses of the user's representatives and allows for an instant transmission.
"This process of grass-roots lobbying is just the latest tool we've developed to enable members to communicate with legislators," says ASAE's director of government affairs, Ray Towle. "Face-to-face visits to representatives and personal letters sent through the mail remain the most effective means of grassroots advocacy, but we want to give our members all options available to help get ASAE's messages to the Hill and to state capitals in a timely manner."
Members are giving the Web service a good workout: In March, during the campaign finance reform debate, the association community stripped the provision on association advocacy restrictions contained in H.R. 3485. Assisting in this effort were the thousands of messages from associations across America that were sent in a matter of days through the SALT Advocacy Center to Capitol Hill.
The Web-based advocacy center takes a step further a service that ASAE has been providing to members for two years: a telephone-based system of lobbying. Members using the SALT phone card can call a toll-free 888 number to receive issue updates and to be connected to their legislators' phone lines.
For details about either the Web or telephone advocacy services or for additional information about SALT, contact Towle at (202) 626-2820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Title Annotation:||includes related articles on the American Society of Association Executives; lobbyists|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1998|
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