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Advocacy for Association Professionals

Why is advocacy important to associations? How should associations get involved with advocacy? What factors impact an association’s ability to be successful in its advocacy efforts? These are all important questions to consider when evaluating your association’s current and future approach to advocacy.

Broadly speaking, advocacy matters to associations because legislative actions, policy developments, and politics affect both members and association professionals alike. Whether it is legislation geared towards the specific industry an association represents, the association industry itself, or both, relevant and impactful policies are always in the works. A perfect example is a piece of legislation that the American Society of Association Executives has been advocating for this year. It is called the Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act, and it expands the eligible uses of the current 529 college savings accounts to include costs associated with professional training, credentialing, and certification programs. Many associations consist of members for whom credentials and certifications are essential to success in their industry, and association professionals find great benefit in obtaining certifications such as the CAE. As a result, this piece of legislation has the potential to positively impact both association professionals and the members they serve.

While getting involved with advocacy may seem relatively simple, there are many different approaches associations can take. Before diving into the legislative process, associations must consider the amount of time, planning, and resources that are required for different forms of advocacy. Some forms of advocacy, such as getting bills proposed and passed and conducting fly-ins, can require significant investments. Alternatively, there are numerous forms of advocacy, namely those which are less directly involved with the legislative process, that can be more accessible for associations newer to advocacy work. Some of these approaches include establishing a key contact program to build on member relationships with elected officials, arranging in-district legislator meetings and educational visits, developing position statements and endorsing those of other groups, sharing information about relevant legislation with association members and the public, and encouraging individual member involvement in outside advocacy and politics. Associations can also consider establishing a PAC, but the process is complicated, and the association must be prepared to manage the implications of operating a political entity.

Ultimately, an association’s decision to get involved with advocacy is influenced by numerous factors. Depending on its current structure, resources, and membership, it may or may not be equipped for successful advocacy. One might begin by asking the question: Does the association have an existing legislative or government affairs committee that just needs training and opportunities related to advocacy? If the answer is no, building such a committee is an important starting point. Without this foundation, the association may discover that it does not have the commitment from members or other resources it needs to effectively executive advocacy efforts. Another important component to evaluate is whether the association already has defined issue priorities or a legislative agenda. If it does not, establishing them is critical before initiating advocacy efforts. The association needs guidance to ensure it is advocating for policies that support its mission and reflect issues that matter to its members.

The value of advocacy truly cannot be overstated. While a few of the main questions commonly asked by association members and industry professionals are addressed above, there are many more components to advocacy than what is discussed here. Every association is unique and will have a specialized approach to advocacy based on the needs and interests of its members. For more information, check out the resources on ASAE’s government relations page.

Post written with inspiration from ISAE/TSAE Webinar “Association 101: Government Affairs,” presented by David Mintz on March 20, 2024.

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Samantha Zechiel

Samantha Zechiel joined the RGI team in 2023. She has a Bachelor's in Political Science from Butler University. Samantha has worked for Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, as well as the Indiana House of Representatives. She specializes in writing, customer service, and problem solving.