My career in association government relations spans 16 years with 11 of those representing individual members. If there’s one question I get asked more often than not, it’s this…
Are you a member of the association?
When I reply “no”, it’s usually followed up with “Why?”. I then proceed with this long soliloquy about lobbying being its own profession and how we develop policy that benefits the members. Depending on who I was speaking to, the reaction would either be ohh (positively) or ohh (negatively). Regardless, there seems to be some thought that only members of an association make the best lobbyists.
Members are great advocates for an association’s issue. They are the content experts on particular issues and the ones who can make the best case for or against a bill. One can look at ASAE’s recent advocacy efforts with the 1099 repeal as an example of members getting involved with association advocacy. However, professional lobbying also plays an important role in associations.
Lobbyists can identify a particular need and draft legislation based on it. For example, in a previous job, we discovered that medicare beneficiaries who needed speech therapy had to go to a rehabilitation facility for those services. However, those who needed physical or occupational therapy could get those services in the comfort and privacy of their own home. So we crafted legislation to expand access to speech services. As the lobbying staff, we were responsible for the technical aspects of the bill (i.e. how much would it cost the government to implement, how many people would be affected, etc…). We were also responsible for getting congressional support for our issue which means many days running around Capitol Hill. Members were brought in later in the process to give their testimonies of why this policy change would benefit them and the patients they serve. When the bill finally passed, we recognized it for what it was: a perfect collaboration between the lobbyists and association members.
Sure, having the member experience can be useful in lobbying. However, it’s not necessary. Professional lobbying provides associations a great opportunity to work with their local, state and federal legislators to improve the lives of our members and the people they serve.