Sadly, many of you may be thinking your members don’t want to hear about advocacy. Perhaps you think the chamber should be a safe haven from all the upheaval of a contentious political climate. You may choose not to say a word about elections this year. But if you do, you’re missing a golden opportunity to grow your advocacy efforts and get your members involved in (and excited about) government affairs.

While the timing is ideal for gaining support for your advocacy, that doesn’t mean you won’t have an upward battle when trying to gain support for it this year. However, if you’re able to reframe the context and show the importance of advocacy efforts on the business community, you can experience your own landslide victory for your members.

Election years are often occasions of heightened political discourse. You can’t get away from it. From memes to videos, SNL monologues to newsletter headlines, it’s everywhere. Even when you and your members are just trying to enjoy a funny video, up it pops—someone poking fun of or maligning a candidate. And the comments! Oh, the comments on the posts. They’re awful.

While it may not feel that way, this can be a prime opportunity to mobilize members and amplify your chamber’s advocacy efforts. As this national election dominates headlines, don't let member engagement wane. Instead, reframe advocacy as a business imperative, not a political one, and inspire your members to act.

Navigating Negativity: the Disconnect Between Election Fatigue and Business Advocacy

Let's face it, election season is exhausting. Members might already be experiencing the sting of rising costs. Add to that the inability to escape political messaging. They likely feel overwhelmed by the national campaigns and disinclined to engage in "more politics." Perhaps even your board feels that way. So, you must reframe the narrative.

Advocacy isn't about choosing sides. It's about championing policies that benefit the business community and foster a thriving local economy. Advocacy isn’t partisan. It’s what’s good for business in your local community. This must be a central message in your advocacy—not pro candidate, pro community.

Why Advocacy Matters

Remind your members that advocacy is about building a better business environment. It's about securing policies that:

  • ​Reduce regulatory burdens
  • Invest in infrastructure and workforce development
  • Promote tax policies that encourage investment and entrepreneurial spirit
  • Supporting legislation and regulations that keep businesses open
  • Suggesting and supporting policies that reduce friction in starting and retaining businesses in your community

These are issues that directly impact the success of businesses of all sizes, regardless of who's in office. Local elections for city council, school boards, and state legislatures are equally important battlegrounds for business-friendly policies as are commission and task force appointments. You may not be able to directly impact an appointment, but you can use your collective Voice of Business to encourage a local leader to appoint someone who supports business and understands the challenges of creating a healthy business community.

The message behind separating policy from party is an important one. You’ll need to educate your members on this. And it won’t be a lesson they’re interested in hearing. Consider running a multi-channel marketing campaign posting about the importance of advocacy on business. Multi-channel marketing is a fancy way of saying—you’re not one and done by posting it to social. Use all your forward-facing channels. Yes, post to social media. But don’t forget to add it to your newsletter, send out an email, invite the public to your government affairs meetings, etc.

Using a campaign of multiple touchpoints will help you reach a larger group and make a bigger impression. After all, it takes a person more than one view to grasp and remember a massage.

Events are also important to calling attention to your advocacy efforts. But be aware, attendance will be low if you don’t do the education on the importance of advocacy first.

Advocacy in Action Example: look at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s advocacy updates that are publicly displayed on their website.

Mobilizing for Maximum Impact

Now that you’ve communicated the importance of advocacy, let’s dive deeper into ways you can get your members involved. The power of the chamber resides in it being the Voice of Business. It’s difficult for a business to advocate for itself unless it has very deep pockets and is a major employer in the area. These activities amplify the Voice of Business and assist your members in leveraging the power of the chamber for the benefit of their business.

6 Ways Chambers Can Engage Members During Election Seasons and Beyond

Focus on local races. Highlight the critical role local elections play in shaping the business climate. Your members may also feel more personally invested (through connections with their networks) to support local candidates.

Develop issue-specific campaigns. Create clear, concise messaging that outlines the impact of specific policies on local businesses. Communicate in simple words, not legislative language, the “if, then, equals” proposition behind each bill and measure. For example: If this proposition passes, then we will have funding for workforce development programs. Funding will allow us to help you get the employees you’ve been looking for by increasing the number of skilled employees in the area. If you have more extensive details as to how that will happen and what that means for the community…even better. Share those (such as exact numbers on funding, results from studies that may have been conducted, etc.).

Organize candidate forums. Foster dialogue between candidates and the business community. If there will be a question-and-answer session for the candidates, make sure you have business-related questions in case the audience is silent.

Offer voter education resources. Help members understand how local elections affect their bottom line. Educate on what’s at stake with propositions on the ballot. Include voting records of candidates on past business issues. It’s easy for a candidate to claim to be pro-business, but how did they vote?

If you want to stir things up and make your chamber a power to be reckoned with, create a chamber pro-business ballot the way parties (and entities like the NRA) instruct their loyal members to vote. The ballot would highlight a pro-business candidate for every race based on voting history and their proposed strategic plan.

Leverage technology. Utilize digital platforms to keep members informed and mobilize action. Add information to your website. Create video updates. Send out emails.

Celebrate success stories. Showcase how past advocacy efforts have yielded positive outcomes for businesses in your community. For instance, did you advocate for businesses during COVID to stay open or expand their outdoor space? Tell those stories. Even if you weren’t successful, show that you went to bat for them. Everyone loves an underdog story and sharing a past failure can call attention to the need for more support for future successes.

Making Advocacy Accessible

Many members may not be sure how they can get involved. Advocacy may bring up thoughts of visiting the Capitol. That’s intimidating for some members. But grassroots action is important and should be part of your advocacy plan.

To get more members involved and simplify what you’re asking them to do, offer resources and guidance that empowers them to act such as:

  • ​Provide advocacy training workshops
  • Create template letters and emails for contacting legislators
  • Organize phone banking sessions to reach representatives
  • Offer social media toolkits for easy advocacy sharing

Why Stirring the Pot Is a Good Thing

Many chamber pros voice concern over starting advocacy efforts. They think it’s too contentious. People will get angry. Boards may be hesitant to endorse candidates or get involved. There’s fear in the unknown and concern over “shaking up City Hall.”

As the chamber, you represent business. You speak for business. You are not shaking up City Hall. You are informing them of the needs of the business community. With a season or two of successful advocacy, your chamber could become the entity candidates wait for endorsements from.

Additionally, businesspeople want reasons to join the chamber. Many of the chamber benefits that we relied so heavily on for marketing can now be done by other entities. Businesses are hosting their own events and creating networking circles without the chamber.

The power of advocacy lies in numbers. It would take businesses a lot of money and time to form the collective you already have. Advocacy is something you can do for them that would be very difficult for them to do for themselves. There’s incredible value in that but only if you communicate this to them. Don’t expect it to occur to your members over coffee in the morning.

The Power of Collective Action

By creating a unified voice, you can make a significant impact on policy decisions. Remind members that every voice counts.

Advocacy is a long-term commitment, not a one-time event. By building a culture of civic engagement within your chamber, you can ensure your members' voices are heard loud and clear, not just during election season, but year-round.

Together, you can champion a strong business environment that benefits not just individual businesses, but the entire community.

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