Money & Business

Report: Associations Struggle to Engage Members in Advocacy Efforts

By / Jun 9, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Association advocacy is a year-round job, but government relations professionals say it can be tough to keep members actively involved in important day-to-day issues, according to a new report by CQ Roll Call. One reason: There’s not always an impending crisis.

As a rule of thumb, members of an association are likely to be heavily engaged in their industry or profession. Even so, the results of a new survey by CQ Roll Call show that, when it comes to advocacy, keeping members involved is the single largest challenge that associations face this year.

The survey, released last week as a part of a new report called “Increasing Engagement: How to Keep Members Active When Your Issues Aren’t Hot,” asked 330 association and advocacy professionals to identify their top advocacy challenges for the upcoming year, and 36 percent said engaging members. That was followed by budget and lack of resources (24 percent) and getting decision makers to listen (12 percent).

“Like political campaigns, advocacy is now an ‘always on’ activity. The majority of associations have programs that reach out to members regularly in an attempt to move them to action,” the report said [PDF]. “Yet the problems faced by these associations were plain to see, with many in the survey describing a scene in which they struggle to activate a membership of busy professionals who can be difficult to motivate without some looming crisis.”

Three out of four associations said members were more likely to participate in the group’s advocacy efforts when the association was lobbying on an issue in front of Congress or an agency. An equal number said they had trouble getting members engaged without a timely issue.

Some more key findings:

  • 75 percent said it was at least somewhat difficult to get members involved in the association’s advocacy efforts, while just 3 percent said it was very easy.
  • 44 percent said members “could be a lot more active” in advocacy initiatives, and 3 percent said they saw “few signs of life” from their members.
  • Only 20 percent of those surveyed said they were “very confident” that they could get members to engage in advocacy efforts when they needed them to. By comparison, 59 percent said they were somewhat confident.

One of the best ways to get members involved in advocacy, according to the survey, was email: More than 80 percent of those surveyed said members were willing to write an email to a public official. Other popular engagement tactics included signing a petition (40 percent), making a phone call to a public official (36 percent), and social media outreach (36 percent).

The report also highlighted the importance of weaving advocacy into the strategic focus of the organization—something that’s easier said than done.

“The key here is to make it relevant to [members],” Michelle Sara King, president and CEO of King Consultants, said in the report. “Relevant, accessible, exciting, and interesting. There are a lot of ways to do that. You can show how this improves their business.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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