Incorporating Trade Associations Into Your Lobbying Efforts

March 29, 2019

The best government affairs strategy takes advantage of external resources to expand the impact of your organization’s lobbying efforts. For many government affairs professionals, trade associations are a critical resource to expand their knowledge and influence on an issue. Trade associations bring legislative and regulatory experience, in-depth policy knowledge, and the influence of a sizeable membership to the conversation on your issue.

Devin Mogler is the VP Government Affairs for ethanol producer and distributor, Green Plains. Mogler joined the company after working as a Special Assistant for Agriculture for Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA). In his role at Green Plains, Mogler is the only government affairs professional at the organization, and therefore, incorporating trade associations into his lobbying efforts is necessary to expand his organization’s reach in Congress.

Mogler shared three best practices for getting the most out of your trade associations:

Maintain a “Symbiotic Relationship”

Mogler describes his experiences with relevant trade associations as a “symbiotic relationship.”

“On a daily basis, I am talking to them about what meetings they’re taking, who they’re talking to, what they’re tracking,” Mogler said.

To make best use of a trade association, it is vital for government affairs professionals to use their associations to fill in the gaps in their organization’s internal skill set, whether that be in-depth policy knowledge, ability to keep an ear-to-the-ground in all 50-states, or technology to expand the organization’s impact. As a one-person GR team, finding the ways for Mogler’s trade associations to expand his reach is critical.

In a highly active policy area like fuel, the association’s work allows Mogler to keep tabs on legislative developments across Congress and all 50 states.

Meanwhile, Mogler brings “fresh contacts and relationships to the table” through his recent experience in the Senate, providing new potential allies in the chamber for the association.

Utilizing the trade association’s resources simplifies the government affairs process for smaller teams. From tracking legislation to maintaining a network of champions, trade associations can provide industry insight and the extra resources necessary to increase the impact of his lobbying efforts.

Measure the ROI of Membership

Trade association membership is a business cost just like any other. To evaluate if this is a worthwhile investment, consider if each trade association you participate in has a unique value to your organization and if the association has a measurable legislative impact.

When Mogler first started in his role at Green Plains, he was tasked with analyzing the value of the company’s trade association memberships. The company dropped out of the associations that Mogler saw as duplicative or where they were not seeing sufficient value.

“When I came into this role we worked with probably eight trade associations—some state and some national,” Mogler said. “We did a reevaluation of where we were getting the most bang for our buck. We stopped contributing and left our membership of two of those associations because we felt that it was duplicative or that we weren’t getting our money’s worth.”

For each trade association membership, set an objective early on and continually evaluate if you are receiving a return on the investment.

Maintain Close Communication with Fellow Member Organizations

In ethanol and fuel, where federal and state policy is very active, close and coherent communication between organizations and trade associations is necessary to respond to legislative opportunities and threats.

In addition to trade association membership, working closely with a network of partner organizations with similar goals can improve legislative success. Mogler meets frequently with other government relations professionals from the industry to discuss advocacy priorities and how to utilize trade association resources. In these meetings, they discuss how they can best coordinate with their trade association.

“[Members of the association will] meet and ask ‘are we getting everything we want? How can we leverage [the association]?’”

Mogler’s advice resonates across the entire government affairs space: close and regular communication with affiliated organizations helps professionals gain access to a larger lobbying network, keep tabs on developments in legislation, and make the most efficient use of trade association resources.

Bottom Line

To make the most of trade associations, it's critical to be an active participant in their work. Utilizing the knowledge and experience of trade association professionals requires close communications, but yields results in achieving policy priorities and increasing the impact of your organization’s lobbying efforts.

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