Effective Advocacy Tactics for Today's Ever-Changing Political Landscape

senter-advocacy tactics July 27, 2023 By: Jemilah Senter

In a constantly shifting political landscape, associations must rethink their advocacy efforts. That means being prepared to pivot as needed, building and maintaining relationships with elected officials, embracing diverse perspectives, and much more.

Associations play a critically important role in helping to shape the policies that affect nearly every aspect of our society. And to do this work well, they may have to rethink their advocacy strategy given the constantly shifting political landscape.

I spoke with Patrick Velliky, vice president of government affairs for Envision Healthcare and board member for MCI USA’s client, the Emergency Department Practice Management Association, to discuss some of the recent shifts and what they mean for associations as they determine policy priorities and navigate relationships with elected officials.

Internal Alignment

To overcome challenges with different priorities internally, Velliky recommends asking stakeholders about which current policies and legislation could be improved to achieve better outcomes for the association’s constituents and potentially the recipients of the products and services your industry offers.

This will likely start as a big list that will need careful prioritization and additional research, analysis, and feedback from members or other partner organizations. To whittle down the list, Velliky advised examining each potential policy priority, and giving higher rankings to those that most directly help to advance your mission.

Velliky also recommends associations should research current policies and recent similar legislative efforts to examine the likelihood of moving the needle on their issues.

Galvanize Supporters

According to Velliky, an effective association that can convey a consensus point of view for all the people they represent is much more effective than any single organization on its own.

He suggests developing and documenting a policy agenda that outlines top priorities and sets out a plan to advocate for these priorities. The plan could involve creating positioning statements, collaborating with partners, or participating in or forming a coalition, and mobilizing membership to advocate and act.

Acknowledge Uncertainty

The dynamics of politics are changing rapidly, influenced by various factors such as public opinion, economic conditions, the evolution of news and media, and geopolitical events.

“I think it is a lot harder for policymakers to figure out what the right policy is and what the actual majority of their constituency would like to see happen,” Velliky said.

He recommends that assessing the political climate, staying informed on emerging issues, and being prepared to pivot strategies, when necessary, can help associations navigate this uncertainty. For example, election outcomes and changes in party control can significantly impact your policy agenda. That’s why it is important to consider all scenarios and outcomes and take a pre-emptive approach to determining how you will adapt your advocacy efforts accordingly.

By acknowledging and embracing the uncertainty, thinking strategically and beyond your association, and being agile, associations can position themselves as influential actors in the ever-changing political landscape.

Embrace Diverse Perspectives

Different elected officials and policymakers may have varying stances on issues that are important to your association. It’s crucial to identify key stakeholders including staff, members, and the organizations your association partners with who can influence decision-making and build relationships with them.

“Make sure that it doesn’t appear to be either a Republican or a Democratic idea, so that it can get the support of both sides that it deserves,” Velliky said. “It does, however, take some extra effort and focus that requires planning for positioning in ways the align to varying perspectives—looking at the overall benefits of the agenda and determining how to align them with the overall position for each side.”

Demonstrate Impact with Clarity

According to Velliky, it’s important to find an angle when educating legislators. “Lobbying is just marketing to policy makers. Understanding as much as you can about the thing you are working on and convincing other folks that they care about it too.”

Putting on my own marketing hat, associations should lean into best practices in marketing and communications to help inform and educate the potential impact of policy proposals. Easily accessible and evidence-based arguments, statistics, case studies, infographics, and testimonials can strengthen your efforts and help garner support for your cause.

Navigating the volatility and uncertainty of the current political landscape requires associations to align internally, stay informed, build relationships, be nimble, and communicate effectively. By implementing these suggestions, associations will have the best opportunity to continue to be key drivers in shaping the policies that positively impact their constituents and advance their missions.

Jemilah Senter

Jemilah Senter is vice chair, ASAE Advocacy Council and is an experienced marketing and communications executive with over 25 years of experience, specializing in the full spectrum of initiatives that advance the missions of associations and nonprofits.