Do association members make the best lobbyists?

During my organization’s annual meeting earlier this year, I did an advocacy training for some early career psychologists of color. As I was talking about the important role our members play in our advocacy efforts, I was asked the following question: If our members are so important to the process, why do we need someone like you on Capitol Hill?  The intent wasn’t mean-spirited. Rather, it was asked about someone who was completely unfamiliar with association lobbyists.

I’ve been asked similar questions throughout my career. Why are you not an audiologist or psychologist?  Why do we need “a hired hand” (my words, not theirs) when we have so many members who can go to the Hill? My answer is always the same: professional lobbyists have specific expertise, training and skills to advocate in support of or in opposition to an issue of importance to an association. This isn’t to say that members of an association can’t become lobbyists. However, being a lobbyist for an association is more than just knowing what the research says or experiencing the issues the profession is facing on a daily basis. It’s being politically savvy. It’s coalition building. It’s being able to respond to the ever-changing ways of Congress.

While I’d like to think that associations truly support their professional lobbyists, I know more than a few (including yours truly) who have been denied jobs and promotions because we weren’t members of the profession. A good lobbyist will know how to work any issue regardless of the association. For CEOs looking to hire their next lobbyist, think about the current political landscape and ask yourself this question: Do I hire the person with 10 years of lobbying experience or 10 years as a member of the association?