Public Policy

How To Make Your Government Affairs Committee Work

ACCE Webmaster on Friday, October 24, 2008 at 6:53:00 pm

Lumachi_2 Advocacy Advice from Shaun Lumachi

If I were ever to write a love story about the chamber of commerce industry, the protagonist would be a chamber of commerce committee. We love committees. It is the way we build consensus, get the work done, and create results. The opening paragraph of an 1884 article in the New York Times is a great example of our enduring love affair with committees:


The late inventor and General Motors Corporation's research chief Charles F. Kettering once quipped, “if you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.†For all the disadvantages of a chamber of commerce committee, it is the process we know and use to get things done.  So, the following is a check list of what you should know, at a minimum, about starting or fine-tuning your action-oriented government affairs committee (GAC).

1) Control demand by constricting supply. Your GAC should have a limited amount of participation. I recommend no less than eight voting members and no more than twenty-one. Size of the committee should only be determined based upon demand; if you can secure twenty one active voting participants no matter the size of your chamber then seat twenty one. However, if you can only get eight, then go with eight. The bottom-line: do not dilute the value of the GAC by opening it up to every person in the world. Increase the GAC’s perceived value by limiting the supply of voting seats in order to maintain the demand for participation.

2) GAC members should be the best in your community. When forming GAC’s I always start off with this question: what business person in your community would be impossible to get to serve on a committee but if they agreed to serve would be the absolute best? Use a litmus test when deciding if they are the best: can they invest money; are they politically active or are they politically connected; do they understand the issues; and are they committed to being proactive; do they understand what is important to business? The bottom-line: get the best in the room. Do whatever it takes to get them in the room. Keep antagonists out of the room and build the committee on an environment of being proactive. Attract GAC members who sign the front of paychecks and do not seat elected officials and their representatives as voting members.

3) Results keep people in the room. The single problem chamber’s ask me to help solve is how do we keep volunteers engaged and active. In other words, how do we keep volunteers in the room? My answer: what advocacy issue did you accomplish recently? Nothing? Then why would anyone want to be a part of your government affairs effort! Your GAC meetings must be action orientated, not report oriented. Every agenda item must propose a taking a position on something. Simply bringing people together to hear reports from elected officials or reports on the latest and greatest is not enough. The bottom-line: you keep people engaged when you give them something to rally behind. Be action oriented so they understand that each month they are a part of making a decision on something that will impact your business community.

4) Your GAC agenda must adhere to the ethic of reciprocity. Confucius would say it another way, "Never impose a GAC agenda on others what you would not what for yourself." I recently received an emailed meeting agenda from a prominent regional government affairs organization (not a client of mine). The agenda was send the day before the meeting and included twenty-two attachments. Yes, 22 attachments. Do you have the time to read through 22 attachments of information? Who has that kind of time? I don’t. So I deleted the email and never attended the meeting. The bottom-line: every advocacy decision starts with a well prepared agenda. Combine all of your information into one document and summarize as much as you can. The key here is information management, not information overload.

5) Your effectiveness is in direct proportion to your efficiency. Your GAC’s justification for even existing is because it is effective. To be effective, you can’t bog down your process in bureaucracy on every single issue. Therefore, any decision that GAC makes must end at GAC, not your chamber board executive committee and then the full board of directors. The board must empower its GAC to take positions on issues that align with a board-approved platform of issues. If an issue does not align then the board must act.  However, the platform of issues should be flexible enough to limit issues from making it to the board for consideration. The GAC should be a work horse and not a recommending body. Update the board accordingly on GAC positions but do not put the GAC in a position of being strangled from reaching the point of action because “that decision needs to go to the board at its next meeting 5 weeks from now.†The bottom-line: your GAC must be the final voice on the issues so you can act smart and fast.

In the context of building your chamber’s government affairs program, a government affairs committee (GAC) should be the cornerstone of your chamber’s advocacy efforts. Most importantly, it is where the ideas begin and end in representing the interests of your members with government.

Shaun Lumachi is President of Chamber Advocacy, a professional consulting firm that builds and maintains results-oriented government affairs programs for chambers of commerce.

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