Advocacy – The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy. In essence, advocacy is actively supporting something important to you.
I recall several years ago when a friend of mine asked me “how do you lobby” (with much disdain in her voice as if the practice of lobbying was pure evil.). I replied to her that I was simply an advocate for business and businessmen and women who cannot take the time to meet with elected officials about their concerns regularly because they are too busy managing their business. In addition, I told her that I was a resource to elected officials who are busy working on all sorts of issues from regulatory, military, environmental, energy, taxes, transportation, etc., and need to hear from the various groups to know all sides of an issue. She then proceeded to passionately express her feelings for the need for a new elementary school to be built in her part of town for the usual reasons such as poor facilities, overcrowding, population increases, busing, etc. After about five full minutes of only listening and smiling, she stopped and asked, “Why are you smiling?” I told her she had just lobbied the heck out of me, and that is all it is – advocating for something important to you or your organization. We all have things that we’re passionate about and generally have no qualms telling other people, but when it comes to doing so for your members, some chambers suddenly hesitate for fear of losing a member or upsetting an elected official.
Government Affairs programming should be as much a part of your daily operations or program of work as membership or any other thing you do. In fact, if you’ve recently gone through the Accreditation process you’ll know government affairs is one of the areas of work that must be achieved, not to mention two required courses at Institute. Government affairs should be used as a selling point and a membership benefit. Rarely have I heard a chamber say they lost a member because they took a position, but all have said they gained members once they started advocating on behalf of the entire business community.
It is becoming increasingly more important for local chambers to get involved in advocacy on behalf of their membership. As the economy continues to struggle, government looks to increase taxes to balance budgets, cripple our businesses with regulations, while government uncertainty continues to prevent many businesses from expanding and hiring new employees. These businesses are in all communities and need someone to help speak collectively for them and the business community as a whole.
I don’t know what every local chamber’s mission statement says, but I bet you they all say something about being the “voice of business,” an “advocate for economic development,” or “building a business friendly environment.” However, unless you are actually taking positions on issues, actively engaging your members, the community and, most importantly the elected officials, then you are not truly advocating. Festivals, after-hours events, and business card exchanges are nice social events, but they aren’t actually increasing a business’s bottom line. As a former congressional staffer, I can speak firsthand about how important it is for elected officials to hear from local chambers and the business community to learn about how legislation is going to directly impact them. Small business owners rarely have time to make calls much less write letters or schedule meetings with elected officials. They will join organizations, such as the chamber, to speak for them and provide a collective voice for the entire business community.
While some in Washington want to demagogue businesses, they are the fabric of your community and our country, and there is no greater time for us to stand up and be the Voice of Business.