Scott Grayson, CAE
Scott Grayson, CAE, is executive director of the American Public Works Association in Kansas City, Missouri.
Because the work of GR staff often does not show up in immediate results like the passage of a bill, counting chits and random metrics are less important than aligning outcomes with strategic goals to highlight the power of your advocacy.
When establishing a government relations program within an association, people often wonder: How can I measure success? There are many schools of thought on this. Most recognize that even though we lead nonprofits, we should be running them like a business—warranting clear and definable metrics. So, what metrics should be applied to a GR program?
I think my experience in association GR can serve as an example of the difficulty in dealing with metrics. I worked for IEEE for 26 years before I took over as CEO for the American Public Works Association (APWA). I started my career at IEEE in GR, where I lobbied all three branches of the federal government.
When I was just starting out, IEEE hired a new executive director who came from AT&T Bell Laboratories, where he was vice president of quality. He said any process could be improved by establishing metrics and measuring programs and processes. I was a skeptic. I tried to explain that GR was not something you could measure in a meaningful way because of the various external factors over which we have no control. I asked, “Would you have us measure how many letters we write to Congress, how many Hill visits we make, or how many testimonies we write?” He then asked me how long I had been lobbying on pension portability. When I told him 12 years, he said, "Then you are a failure."
About six months later, he came back, apologized, and explained that he better understood GR. He acknowledged that you can't impact everything just by establishing metrics because of external factors. He also admitted there were more important things than metrics when it came to GR. We finally did get pension portability passed—by the way!
GR programs can be looked at as overhead in the association world because they do not necessarily bring in revenue. That’s why it’s important to link your GR program activities to the strategic plan and have clearly defined policy statements from which the group lobbies.
The point of the story is that GR programs can be looked at as overhead in the association world because they do not necessarily bring in revenue. That’s why it’s important to link your GR program activities to the strategic plan and have clearly defined policy statements from which the group lobbies. When APWA developed a new strategic plan in 2017, one of the goals was to serve as the “voice of public works to government leaders and the media.”
To stay on course, we have made it clear that we will only lobby on three issues: water resiliency, transportation and emergency management. We visited every congressional office twice at the start of the 116th Congress in January, helped establish the U.S. House Public Works and Infrastructure Caucus, held Hill briefings utilizing the caucus structure, hosted fly-ins with over 70 meetings in a day and a half, and much more. We can show great numbers with respect to meetings, letters, and testimony, but to what end?
As executive director, I have tried to set realistic expectations about what the board can expect from our GR program. I focus on the activities and strategies that are in our control and explain what is out of our control. I have emphasized that GR programs do not always have tangible metrics, and that we are either in this for the long term or not. I explain that they should not focus on the “how many” but the actual impact and recognition that our group has with the federal government.
For APWA, it is about providing education to the federal government and positioning ourselves as the "go-to" group for public works and infrastructure. We also emphasize the fact that our members are the professionals who know what is happening beneath our streets: They design, build, and maintain America’s infrastructure.
Our ultimate goal is to have the federal government seek our expert advice on issues that deal with water, transportation, and emergency management. If government officials rely on us as subject-matter experts and our members become engaged in the public policy process, we’ll know we succeeded.