Maximize Your Chamber's Advocacy Impact During the Legislative Off-season

Providing value for chamber members can often be depicted in a Venn diagram. On one side are things your members need; on the other are things they can’t do for themselves. Where those two intersect is a potential for chamber gold. One of those areas in the middle is advocacy.

However, some assume that advocacy ends at the legislative session each year. But just because your elected officials leave the state house doesn’t mean your chamber advocacy efforts should go dormant. In fact, the off-season offers a unique opportunity to lay the groundwork for policy changes and program support when lawmakers return to the capitol.

Advocacy Actions in the Off-season

If you “close up” shop and don’t speak of advocacy in the off-season, when the legislature meets again, you’ll begin again from scratch. You’ll need to get people interested in the issues again and the chamber’s legislative initiatives. However, if you keep a consistent approach to advocacy, your legislative efforts are more likely to remain at the forefront of your members’ minds and those of your community leaders.

Advocating for members in the legislative off-season is like keeping a clean house even though you’re not expecting visitors. It prepares you for when you have them and keeps things in order.
Additionally, remember that even though the state legislature may be adjourned for the session, your local council people still need your guidance on what’s best for business.

Here's how your chamber can stay engaged and maximize its advocacy impact during the legislative off-season:

Foster Relationships with Elected Officials

Relationship building is an ongoing activity that helps keep you and your members top-of-mind for your representatives. You don’t want to be out of sight, out of mind. During the off-season, you can:

  • Schedule Meetings. Invite lawmakers to your chamber events, host roundtable discussions, or other events. You can also extend an invitation to grab a coffee to discuss issues affecting your community.
  • Attend Town Halls and Community Forums. Listen to constituent concerns and share your chamber's perspective.
  • Maintain Regular Communication. Update officials on your chamber's initiatives and advocacy priorities. At a minimum, publish your advocacy issues every year.

Educate and Engage Your Members

Businesspeople have a lot going on.

Additionally, for many people, there has become a negative component on the political process. People don’t want to talk about it, but it is one of the most critical parts of running a successful business. Many don’t realize whether their community is pro-business or not until a defining moment alters the ability to do business.

It is important to educate them ahead of time on what changes to legislation can mean to their business. Getting upset about changes in the minimum wage, for instance, after the bill is passed does little good. Help them understand how bills could impact their day-to-day operations.

It’s important to note that even though a particular form of legislation is critical to their business, some businesses are just trying to stay open. They can’t focus on other things.

Additionally, there may be some who care, but they only want the bite-sized version. They don’t want a novel on the history of the argument.

Just as you tailor your marketing to what they want, ensure your legislative components also reflect your members’ desires.

Some ideas on how you can keep your members interested and engaged include:

  • Hosting Policy Workshops. Help members understand the legislative process and how they can get involved. You might be surprised how few people understand the political process of how things get done in your town, county, and state​.
  • Facilitating Member Advocacy Training. Empower your members to advocate for themselves and their businesses effectively, but ensure they know you are there to amplify their voices.
  • ​Organizing Issue-Specific Briefings. Deep dive into key policy areas relevant to your community and business interests. This could include a development project, zoning challenges, the cost of parking downtown, or other things businesses complain about but don’t realize there is a governmental component to the argument.​

Build Coalitions and Partnerships

The chamber is an influential and well-respected organization, but building the chamber’s network with allies of like-minded organizations can ensure that the Voice of Business is a loud and proud one.

You can do this by:

  • Identifying Like-Minded Organizations. Connect with other chambers, trade associations, and community groups (like Main Street or other business orgs in your area) that share your advocacy goals.
  • Collaborating on Joint Initiatives. Work together to amplify your voices and increase your collective impact. If there’s an environmental cause you’re interested in, there may be non-business-focused environmental organizations, for instance, that share your concerns. Even if you haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on issues in the past, you can work together on individual concerns and join initiatives.​
  • Leveraging the Power of Grassroots Advocacy. Encourage your members to contact their legislators and share their stories or host an office visit day with your chamber leadership and a few members who feel passionately about the cause. Your reps may have more time for you when they are out of session.

Gather Data and Stories

Stories are memorable, and data drives home the urgency. We know stories are effective—just listen to any political speech (remember Joe the Plumber?). But leaders are going to want to see data. Combining the two can help you reach people at all levels and improve support for your cause and reputation.

  • ​Collect data on the impact of specific policies on your members and the local economy.
  • Showcase businesses that have benefited from chamber-supported policies or initiatives. This can also help community leaders see what their efforts are yielding.
  • ​​​Craft personal stories that illustrate the real-world impact of the issues you advocate for.

Plan Your Legislative Agenda

Summer is a great time to be thinking about Q4 and beyond.

  • Identify Key Priorities. Determine the most pressing policy issues affecting your community and members. Write them in understandable terms. Leave the legalese to the legislators and bill drafters.
  • ​​Prepare Advocacy Materials. Create fact sheets, position papers, and other resources to share with lawmakers and the public.
  • Refine Your Messaging. Hone your communication strategies to ensure your message resonates with lawmakers and the public.
  • Track Legislative Developments. Stay informed about interim committee meetings and potential policy changes.
  • ​​Develop Policy Positions and Talking Points. Define and articulate your stance on each issue and the solutions you're proposing.

Finally, celebrate your wins. Acknowledge and publicize your advocacy successes to build momentum and maintain member engagement. Give a debrief or a session round-up.

Keep in mind that this is not something you have to do alone as the CEO. Instead, look to people already connected to this area (such as lobbyists, corporate attorneys, or others) who can lead a committee for you. Reach out to your state chamber. There are resources you can use to ensure you’re not the only one carrying the megaphone. When people understand the implications of supporting or defeating a bill or initiative, they will value your efforts.

Remember, consistent engagement and strategic planning are vital in achieving your policy goals and driving positive change in your community.

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