When it comes to advocacy, don’t ignore Gen Y

The following post is a reprint of a guest post I did for XYZ University in September 2012. A special thanks to Sarah Sladek for allowing me to participate!

Go to virtually any association’s website and you will find advocacy listed as a membership benefit. Is it really a benefit? Which of your members would rank advocacy among their top five reasons for joining your association? For a young professional, their reasons for becoming a member may be different. Some want to develop a network. Others want to learn more about their chosen field and seek out job opportunities. And yet others are interested in advocacy.

Before we assume that democracy is dead, associations need to figure out a way to engage all members across generations in their advocacy efforts in order to be successful. What you do to promote advocacy to your Baby Boomer members may be significantly different to your Gen X and Gen Y members.

So, how do you get your younger professionals, Generation Y especially, involved?

From the ground up

There’s no excuse for excluding your younger members from your grassroots advocacy. Some of the best Hill visits I’ve ever sat in on were with our students and new professionals. They brought a passion to their meetings with congressional staff that some of our veterans can’t match. Get them involved now and you’ll have an advocate for life.

Don’t assume

Just because your younger members may not know who their Member of Congress is, don’t write them off as disinterested.  Truth be known, most people don’t!  Just like your long-time members, many younger members just need to be informed and educated on the key legislative issues your association is facing.

Meet them where they are

If your younger professionals are all over social media, use this medium to give them the information they need to be advocates for the association. Direct them to the Facebook pages or Twitter handles of Members of Congress who are champions for your issues. Consider having a blog to report on your legislative activities.

Let them be visible

Who’s featured in your government relations communications? Who serves on your GR committee? Do your GR activities reflect the cross-section of your association? If not, your younger professionals may not feel that advocacy is for them. Utilize the potential of great leaders within your Gen Y membership base.

Be considerate

Your younger members may not have $250 to contribute to your PAC. However, they may be able to do $25 or $50. As you plan PAC events, please keep this group in mind. If you get your younger members into the PAC early, you will develop a regular contributor who will encourage others to do the same.

Don’t forget the students

Young professionals should be engaged in advocacy even before they graduate. Student members are eager to learn and participate. Organize a Hill day just for them that includes advocacy training and a networking reception.

Generation Y holds strong values and strong intent. They are willing to be a part of your movement, your advocacy, so long as they see the benefit to society and the benefit to them. Engage your younger members by engaging with them through their interests, their passions and their causes. Show what you truly mean as advocacy as your member benefit.

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What CBS Sunday Morning got wrong about lobbying

This week, CBS Sunday Morning, one of my must-watch shows on tv, dedicated their opening segment to lobbying. The segment, entitled Behind the closed doors of Washington lobbyists was to give viewers a fly on the wall account of the lobbying industry, considered the third largest in DC after the federal government and tourism. While I applaud CBS for covering this topic, I felt it did very little to combat the negative view of the lobbying profession. Now, are there shady lobbyists? Absolutely. I’ve seen them in action. However, the profession has been painted with this broad brush as if every lobbyist is part of some evil plot. Here are some things CBS Sunday Morning somehow forgot to mention in its report.

1. While the updated lobbying regulations were mentioned, they weren’t very specific. Registered lobbyists are required file reports quarterly to the House and Senate on their activities. Twice a year, we are to report on any political contributions we made over $200.  If you want to know the issues lobbyists are working or who they are contributing to, go to this website: http://lobbyingdisclosure.house.gov/ .  Along the left hand side, there’s an area where you can conduct a search of reports by the lobbyist’s name or the organization they work for.

2. If you have ever contacted your legislator or their staff on an issue of concern, then my friend, you have lobbied.  The profession is not as mysterious as many may claim.

3. Lobbying isn’t a gateway to wealth. Yes, there are some lobbyists who make millions of dollars. The vast majority do not. Most of us do not work on K Street and do not have non-Uber town cars taking us to the Hill.

4. Lobbying is slowly but surely becoming a diverse profession. Yet, there was very little visible diversity was featured in the piece. I did find it interesting that the Member of Congress whose meeting was featured in the piece was Chaka Fattah, an African-American member from PA.

5. Besides defeating plans to cap credit card interest rates and making pizza count as a vegetable on school lunch menus, lobbyists also work to make sure your child has a qualified teacher in the classroom. Lobbyists work to make sure children with disabilities get the same opportunities as other children. Lobbyists work to make sure your mental health care needs are covered as well as your physical health.

6. CBS Corporation, the parent company for CBS news, also has a lobbyist.

I encourage you to watch the segment and let me know what you think.