If you’re an accredited chamber, you know governmental affairs programming is one of the nine areas of work measured, and if you’ve been to Institute, you know all participants regardless of position are required to take one governmental affairs course and others are offered as electives.
Why is this important? Like it or not, the chamber is the epicenter of any community and everyone looks to the chamber for guidance and leadership. Elected officials at all levels want to know where the business community is on issues, and your members are looking to you to protect their best interest.
If you’ve been kind enough to invite me to your chamber or taken one my courses at Institute, then you’ve likely heard me discuss key reasons to be involved in governmental affairs, such as:
- Public policy affects your members
- Elected officials NEED to hear from you
- You can’t accomplish alone what you can together
- More importantly, fulfill your own mission statement, which almost always says something about being the “voice of business” or “advocating” for the business community.
All of these are true, but I want to highlight one overlooked yet crucial reason to get involved in government affairs: it can be one of your best membership tools.
As I travel the region and listen to your challenges, one of the more common concerns is how to retain or attract more members. I believe having an active and engaging governmental affairs program is your best selling point. Programs, community development, and business to business events are important selling points, but for many businesses how does that actually impact their bottom lines?
For example, if I’m a small business owner looking to grow my business and increase visibility, ribbon cuttings, networking events, etc. are great for a while, but eventually I want something more sustainable. Such as, the freedom to expand and grow my business without being over regulated, lower taxes, better schools and roads, and access to more markets to sell my goods and services. I want to know the chamber not only wants but is fighting for these same things.
Small business owners don’t always have the ability to go before elected offices nor the resources to engage a larger grassroots network, but you do. This is why it’s important to have an effective governmental affairs program, and then sell it as a true member benefit. Show your members or potential members you’re fighting for them at all levels of government. Share examples of legislative wins that will benefit their business, and consider offering them the opportunity to share their expertise and help shape the chamber’s legislative priorities and policies by serving on the Government Affairs committee.
Regrettably chambers are too often considered civic organizations, but we’re really advocacy oriented – representatives of business. So don’t be afraid to engage and unapologetically advocate for pro-business issues, and then remind people that’s why you’re the chamber, and it’s why they should be a member.