Associations are held together by a single area of interest. Depending on your specific organization, that area might be a professional field of expertise, or an industry. If it's the latter, chances are your association is directly connected to the legislation that defines its industry.
Your members know that fact as much as you do. In fact, one major reason they're organizing together under a single umbrella is to influence change in the industry and move it forward. Grassroots advocacy becomes as important in this case as professional development and networking opportunities.
In fact, so-called 'good of the order' benefits of association membership - such as advocacy, rules of ethics, and bringing the industry forward - rank among the top reasons why members join your organization. It naturally follows, that encouraging this advocacy can keep them involved and maximize their engagement over time.
The Role of Associations in Advocacy
Most associations and professional organizations stand for something. That something tends to be not just current issues and information exchange, but a shared goal and vision of a better future. Consider the American Bar Association, which states in its mission statement its desire
To serve equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession.
The association seeks to accomplish that mission through four individual goals, which include serving its members, improving the legal profession, eliminating bias and improving diversity, and advancing the rule of law. Similarly, the American Hospital Association explicitly "leads, represents and serves hospitals, health systems and other related organizations that are accountable to the community and committed to health improvement."
Naturally, at least part of the tools to achieve these ambitious goals in either case is grassroots advocacy. Members of each association know that they have the backing of a larger contingent of professionals like them as they reach out and try to influence change. In fact, a 2002 study on the purpose of associations concluded that
Professional organizations are a crucial component of the legislative process as they seek to develop and implement sound public policy. The ONS and other organizations have realized that the work each group does individually is often more effective when the groups collaborate with others possessing the same agendas and priorities.
How Active Advocacy Can Improve Member Engagement
Of course, associations are more than just a passive vehicle for advocacy. As established in the introduction, this advocacy is a major reason why members join to begin with. As a result, active advocacy in the legal process can play a large role in helping members stay with the association for longer, and becoming more active over time.
The reasons are both immediate and long-term. In the short term, associations who can provide their members with the tools and leverage to make a change in the legislative process connected to their industry will see that effort repaid significantly. Members will recognize the value of this connectivity and remain a part of the association for longer.
For instance, imagine an association that keeps its members updated about a current, important law being developed via push notifications. Changes to the bill are analyzed and that analysis is shared with all members. These members are then given opportunities to reach out to legislators for comments and feedback, while also being kept up-to-date about the association's larger efforts to impact the bill.
Members with this type of information and leverage at their fingertips will naturally become more active. Reducing the barriers to volunteering and advocacy improves the number of members who actually participate. Volunteers, in turn, are the single most likely group of association members to stay with the organization for a long time.
The long-term effect, of course, can be even more significant. In addition to all of the above benefits, an association or professional organization that can effectively engage its members in advocacy will become more powerful as part of the industry. That, in turn, makes change favorable to the industry or the larger goal of the association more likely.
In that way, member advocacy is a self-sustaining circle. More engagement drives up the impact of that engagement. That impact, in turn, encourages more members to make their voices heard. Over time, your organization can become a powerful voice for change in the topics closest to your mission and values.
Streamlining Your Association Advocacy Efforts
All of the above, of course, sounds good in theory. Every association wants engaged members, and most would love help in improving their advocacy efforts. Unfortunately, reality tends to strike at this point. Actively building this engagement through grassroots advocacy is a lot of work, and requires the hours and resources most organizations simply don't have.
That is, of course, unless you can streamline your efforts. With the right plan and technology in place, you can easily maximize the potential of grassroots organizing at the legislative level. What you need, in addition to focus and priority, is the backend software designed to get your members engaged and active in the legislative process.
Association membership software is a great start. Look for a platform that doesn't just function as a database of your current members, but includes active advocacy and general engagement tools as well. Our software, for instance, helps you connect individuals and groups of members with their legislative in a variety of ways:
- Use push notifications through our mobile app to update your members on what bills relevant to them are currently being worked on.
- Publish high-level analyses on current bills, and direct your members to these analyses using our various communication tools.
- Invite your members to read and common on current legislation to gain a better understanding of how your members feel about them.
- Allow members to view their elected officials, along with contact information to get to them.
- Run surveys and other type of research to better understand your members, and where their legislative priorities lay.
Through these and other tools, you can streamline your membership advocacy. Through advocacy, in turn, you can increase member engagement. The result of both is an increased potential for positive change in your area of expertise. Get started by scheduling a call, and talking to one of our experts about your association's needs.