Creating a Grassroots Program
One of the most important services an association provides its members is an effective governmental affairs program. Many organizations believe they cannot have a governmental affairs program without hiring a professional lobbyist. While a professional certainly helps polish and drive a program to the next level, no organization should discount the power of their own membership in starting a governmental affairs program. Members are the heart of any successful governmental affairs program.
Forming a Governmental Affairs or Legislative Committee
If your chapter doesn’t already have a governmental affairs committee or a legislative committee, you should create one and set some basic criteria for membership on the committee. You may chose to have the members of the committee appointed by the president or executive committee of the chapter, or you may chose to open the committee to broader membership.
If your chapter covers a fairly large geographic area, you might consider including location as a criteria for membership on the committee. Having most or all of the members of the committee from one small area within a much larger region limits the chances that the committee represents the views of all of the members of the chapter and also limits potential relationships with a wide range of elected officials and other decision makers.
The governmental affairs committee’s primary task is to make recommendations to the chapter’s board of directors on any public policy items of concern to the organization. These recommendations might take two forms; standing legislative positions which don’t change much from year to year and an annual legislative package which changes significantly each year.
- Standing legislative positions are more general in nature than legislative package items. For instance, an association which represents real estate developers might include an item generally opposing all growth control measures. Your positions should be guiding documents when the chapter considers its annual legislative package.
- The legislative package should contain specific items you know will come up at the local or state level in the current year. For example, let’s say the association above decides they would like to ban impact fees on real estate development in their state. Impact fees represent one form of growth control. Using their standing legislative position against growth control measures as a guide, they would include an item in their annual legislative package in support of the specific concept of banning impact fees.
If your organization does not have a professional lobbyist on staff, the members of your governmental affairs committee will function as your primary lobbyists. In this case, it is extremely important that the committee members are well informed on political and governmental issues in your area. These members will often be your only lifeline in the government arena.