Chambers of commerce and other membership organizations being real players in government affairs is now, thankfully, more the rule, than the exception.
Our data shows that business leaders overwhelmingly want their chambers of commerce to represent their interests with government.
The organizations that are leaders in the government affairs arena seem to have embraced the idea that to be successful, you need to understand the importance of and excel in each of these four P’s: People, Policy, Process, and Politics.
Successful government affairs – just like business success – is often all about relationships. The people who are engaged in your government affairs program and their relationships with elected officials are real keys to success.
It all starts with a chairman and committee members who are passionate, understand the system, and are connected.
While they seem obvious, other “people” keys are:
- Knowing who your elected officials are AND their staff members.
- Making sure your key chamber leaders can “pass the hallway test” and are known to your elected officials by name and sight.
- Knowing who in your membership are supporters and contributors to your elected officials. Personal relationships are also of great importance, since more often than not, the messenger is just as important as the message.
Does your chamber have policy in place and a decision-making infrastructure that allows you to take action quickly? Having statements of principles or a policy platform is a real key to success.
Another key is to pick your battles wisely. Knowing that all issues are NOT equal in importance and deciding when and where to engage is a skill of critical importance.
Closely linked to policy is process. How you take positions, gather information (pros & cons), and communicate the chamber’s policy positions are important. It’s essential to be known as an organization the does its homework and doesn’t just “shoot from the hip” by being a rubber stamp for the loudest segment of your members.
Communicating results of your advocacy efforts is also an essential process component, but sadly, still an area where many organizations need significant improvement. It’s important to “close the loop” and communicate results (even if things didn’t go your way) to your members.
A good trend is every year more and more membership organizations are doing vote records reporting how their elected officials voted on key issues. The best organizations also excel at saying “thank you” when elected officials vote their way.
The fourth P stands for politics, but not necessarily political action. It actually has more to do with being politically savvy. Knowing when and how to spend your political capital is more an art than a science, and I’m starting to believe that some folks have it and some folks, sadly, never will.
Being a strong advocate for your members isn’t easy, but it definitely needs to be one of your organization’s core competencies and excelling at the four P’s can definitely help you succeed.