As a chamber professional, you probably deal with fire as much as any run of the mill pyromaniac, only you may not realize it. You put out a lot of ‘fires’ when you deal with the extremely time sensitive member needs and issues that seem to arise out of nowhere. You light a fire under staff and volunteers when the deadline for your membership drive is just around the corner. And sometimes you may feel that you’re running around like your hair is on fire…but in the calm, cool, and collected way, of course.
So it’s natural that launching a new government affairs program or taking a position on a policy issue can feel a bit like (wait for it) playing with fire. So what are the characteristics of the strongest – the most fireproof – local chamber government affairs programs?
They’re on a first name basis with their firefighters.
Not only is it important to have good relationships with your state, local, and federal elected officials, but you need to start that relationship long before there is a problem. And don’t underestimate the importance of knowing and regularly communicating with their staff!
Their members know when there’s risk for fire, or when one has been put out.
Provide regular, timely communications to your membership on any government affairs priorities. Try to include the WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) and keep them concise …if a member wants more details, they’ll ask.
They have an action plan in place before they smell smoke.
Do you have a plan in place to quickly and effectively mobilize membership or your grassroots network when a priority issue comes up? If not, add that to your next board or political committee’s agenda.
Their legislative agenda and policy statements have already been fire-tested.
A diverse mix of members involved in your government affairs program is the key to ensuring you are developing stances on the policy issues most important to your membership and that you’re looking at more than one side of the issue. Make sure your program:
- Includes both large and small companies with local, regional, and national presence
- Represents a variety of political viewpoints
- Includes members of both parties
- Represents the geographical diversity of all your members
And finally, they always thank their firefighters.
We all know a little appreciation goes a long way. Make sure to thank elected officials privately and publicly when they support chamber policy initiatives.