Associations as Advocates & Their “Unified” Voice
Before I started an association management company I was a full time federal lobbyist. Before that, I was Majority Counsel to the US Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Training. I’ve been lobbied by associations. I’ve lobbied for associations and some associations lobbied against my clients’ interests. In every situation the common denominator is “power-in-numbers.” In the trenches of policy negotiation, there are few more effective tools than a stakeholder group’s unified voice. Based on my experience, here are a few key concepts about which I always remind my clients.
A “Unified Voice”
Don’t kid yourself. There is no such thing. A “unified voice” is an advocate’s term-of-art that really means a “majority of the member’s voices.” The very nature of any association does not lend itself to unanimity. Associations are platforms for discussion and debate around issues impacting members’ businesses, beliefs, or goals. A healthy association has the ability to have these conversations and come to pragmatic conclusions on which it can a) credibly hang its name and reputation and b) persuasively argue with probity as a “unified voice.”
What You Say & How You Say it
Use your unified voice wisely. Make your request (for new legislative language, funding for a study, to strike regulatory text, etc.) clearly and succinctly. Support your request with defensible statistics, facts, or illustrations of how granting or denying your request will impact your membership and, if possible, a broader population. Finally, use several different mediums calculated to reach your intended audiences. Consider social media, developing a video, facilitating Congressional briefings, writing letters signed by a diverse swath of stakeholders.
How Often You Say It
Finally, use your unified voice to articulate your clear request through multiple mediums – a lot. If you think you may be over doing it, you’re not because you can’t. Further, if you say the same thing in different ways (through varied mediums) you will not sound repetitious.
The greatest asset an association has in impacting public policy is its ability to represent an entire industry, group, or cohort with a “unified” voice. Once you have it, never waste it.
Aaron Grau is president of Grau & Associates, a boutique association management firm with offices in Pittsburgh, PA and Washington, DC.