Amy Showalter is president of The Showalter Group in Cincinnati and a member of ASAE’s Government Relations and Advocacy Professionals Advisory Council.
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When association members take hyperpartisan stances, your advocacy efforts suffer. Government relations professionals can help members navigate partisan concerns, talk productively about issues, and stay involved in the organization’s policy work.
Super-charged political polarization isn’t new. It just seems so because many media outlets have provided forums for theatrically dysfunctional political discussions. What is relatively new is that some association members who previously were loyal advocates for their association’s policy positions have now mitigated or abdicated their engagement because of their personal political values. This behavior has consequences for an association’s government relations programs and legislative agenda.
Our research with a variety of organizations reveals that there are advocates and association members who exhibit political maturity and those who cling to personal politics disguised as association interests. The latter group is usually more vocal and negative, and negative communications weigh much more heavily on people than positive interactions, resulting in a form of organizational e-coli.
According to government relations professionals in a variety of sectors, common hyperpartisan behaviors among association members include:
All of this can accumulate into your very own advocacy apocalypse. But there’s hope.
Association government relations professionals routinely work with people of opposing political parties and who hold different political philosophies. They have, to paraphrase Liam Neeson in the movie Taken, “A very particular set of skills.” GR professionals are uniquely positioned to guide association members toward more civil, thoughtful, and productive political engagement and discussions.
Member political viewpoints are a form of diversity. Talking politics isn’t bad. The problem is that most of your members don’t know how to do it without assuming those who disagree with them are ignorant or devoid of a moral compass.
One way to encourage focused and productive political conversations is to form member groups where they can occur with facilitation by experienced GR professionals. The goal should never be to change a fellow member’s mind on an issue or candidate, but to elevate their thinking and discussions on political topics. When structured properly, goals and benefits of these groups include:
Here’s a checklist to help you create political discussion groups that educate, include, and unite association members. Effective groups must have:
Politically engaged and aware association members are a good thing. Instead of trying to cancel these conversations, organizational leaders should creatively and proactively promote productive and respectful discussions within the context of association concerns and relationships.