Quardricos Driskell is legislative and political affairs manager at the American Urological Association in Linthicum, Maryland, and a member of ASAE’s Government Relations and Advocacy Professionals Advisory Council.
It’s easy to get comfortable seeking out the same members to advocate with legislators on behalf of your association. However, to ensure you have a steady supply of members ready to speak to your industry’s needs, it’s crucial to include young professionals as part of the advocacy process.
Associations can fill a strategic role in helping the younger generations of today become the advocacy champions of tomorrow. Cultivating and creating a culture of bringing young people into the scope of advocacy will help build an army of advocates over time. It is up to associations to educate, train, and help younger generations understand that the political process is a marathon, not a sprint. Here are a few ways your association can inspire younger members to become advocates.
Give them what they want. First, think about what young professional members desire. They are just getting started in their careers, so the benefits that will likely appeal to them involve networking, mentoring programs, job boards, and general education. Offer education and marketing materials designed exclusively for young members that are visual and could become viral: printed handouts and/or downloadable PDFs (no more than one page), a page on your website, and easy-to-follow infographics that outline your association’s statistical demographic of younger members, legislative and advocacy priorities, and multiple ways to get involved. The more targeted your communications, including developing a young professional Twitter handle or Facebook group, the more effective your association’s recruitment of younger members into advocacy will be.
Offer opportunities for participation and prominence. Encourage younger members to share their stories and experiences on social media. Increased young member participation may require internal changes, such as a shift in thinking among older, established members and alignment across the association. For instance, set aside a board seat for a young professional. It is a radical idea, but it gives young professionals a prominent role in your association’s governance, which should include advocacy. If a board seat is not feasible, associations can offer young professional roundtables that act in an advisory capacity. In addition, an active role on an established advocacy committee also shows young professionals that you value their participation. If such committees for young people do not exist, create them.
The more targeted your communications, including developing a young professional Twitter handle or Facebook group, the more effective your association’s recruitment of younger members into advocacy will be.
Fellowships are another way to expose young professionals to the organization’s culture and values, while simultaneously fostering the next generation of leaders. For example, the American Urological Association (AUA) has a yearlong fellowship program that includes fellows spending six weeks on Capitol Hill in a congressional office. There, the fellow engages in health-policy deliberations as a physician expert to Congress members and staff. Such opportunities not only educate the fellows on the workings of our government, but it also helps them build valuable relationships with Congressmembers and their staff. AUA also encourages young professionals to attend their fly-in and annual meeting.
Foster connections. Find ways to connect younger members with elected political leaders, both locally and nationally. Such meetings are beneficial to both the elected official and the young professional as it reinforces two main themes: young people have a voice, and the association values their voice. Nothing makes a person feel more valued than giving them a platform to speak to important people about your association’s legislative priorities.
Young members should also get involved in your association’s political action committee. One way to do this is to give them representation on your PAC’s board. This gives agency to young members and establishes a culture of political giving. Because instituting the latter can be difficult for some associations, construct affordable giving levels for younger advocates. Ask young members for 50 or 75 percent of what you request seasoned members. The percentage should depend upon how new they are to the workforce.
Outside the association sphere, there are signs that young people are more involved in the political process. The 2018 midterm election broke records for the number of young voters, and before COVID-19, the 2020 elections were expecting the highest young voter turnout in history. What better time than now to engage your younger members in the advocacy and political affairs of your association?