“All politics is local,” so the adage goes. Yet, a common thread in Americans’ complaints about contemporary politics is an increasing sense of alienation from their representation. Seamless electronic connectivity has allowed Americans to communicate with lawmakers more frequently than ever, but this has not prevented them from feeling representation is inaccessible.
This accessibility problem, however, is symptomatic of a time and attention problem that lies at the foundation. Partisan gridlock at the federal level has saddled state legislatures with additional responsibilities as they try and fill the vacuum. The ease and speed of electronic communication has massively increased the volume of correspondence that policymakers have to sift through. Lawmakers’ time is structurally limited, but their responsibilities and workload are not subject to the same constraints. Organizations and individuals participating in advocacy are competing for time and attention.
Associations’ 3 political relationship-building advantages
Effective advocacy is accomplished by cutting through the noise with sustained relationship building. Associations are well positioned to accomplish this goal with the right commitment; they have three distinct advantages in this realm.
- Membership: An association’s membership has some level geographic dispersion that extends its reach beyond a single district. Communications from constituents have higher levels of visibility. Indeed, many legislators attempt to bar communications originating from outside their district. Membership raises an association’s profile by drawing on a diverse array of constituencies, and increases the volume of its voice.
- Brand ID: Associations are a brand with a distinct identifier. Whether a logo, name, or other identifying feature, all of an association’s efforts can draw on a common identity to build or provide recognition.
- Shared resources: Associations enjoy a certain economy of scale through members’ ability to pool resources. Association’s can afford to do more and pass time savings on to membership through centralized coordination.
These advantages allow associations useful pathways for building political relationships and earning the resulting recognition needed to become a priority rather than a competing one. Here’s how to start the dialogue.
3 ways to build political capital
- Put your members in communication with their elected officials. Associations’ may use their scope to their advantage when it comes to advocacy, but they cannot lose sight of grassroots efforts as a tool. Constituents contextualize your association’s efforts and put a face to your communications campaigns. They remind lawmakers that, at the end of the day, the association is a part of their community. A great way to accomplish this is by scheduling an in-district office visit for your member, or inviting them to tour a facility in their district. Facility tours can be especially impactful due to the manner in which they demonstrate the benefits your association’s profession brings to a legislator’s community firsthand. They turn on-paper benefits into tangible ones. Associations can also subscribe themselves to legislators’ mailing lists so that they can send constituents to local events.
- Bring your members to the capitol. Whether it’s Washington, D.C. or a state capitol, there isn’t a more efficient method of getting your members in front of legislators. Take advantage of all of the policymakers that gather in a centralized location each session. Hosting a lobby day in the capitol during this period will ensure that you get your issues in front of a multitude of legislators.
- Host and produce events featuring key policymakers. Your association can invite your policymakers to speak at your meetings, participate in an educational forum on your issues, or host a fundraiser for a candidate. Money’s nexus to politics is never an easy thing to discuss, but will undeniably make you stand out amongst the crowd.
Using these methods to build a foundation for your future advocacy efforts will help make your association and membership credible sources for making tough policy decisions. While these tools are immensely helpful, they are not sufficient on their own. Be sure that each contact with legislators is accompanied by follow up and that you speak with each of your targets multiple times. Make visits and discussions a habit rather than a response to an emergency. Relationships require maintenance and are not built overnight.