As purpose-driven organizations, the goal of an association is to improve the lives of its members and the industries they serve. While this often happens through education and resources, it can also be done on a much larger scale. For association newcomers, there’s a lot to learn about how your new organization works and what kind of impact you may be making.
One thing you may not have known is that your association can also affect policy on a local, state or national level. Here’s everything you need to know.
The dynamic between nonprofits and the public sector, including the government, often focuses on funding. While nonprofits may rely on contracts and grants from the government to help operate, the government, in turn, depends on nonprofits to help with community outreach programs, advocacy for constituents and even education and training.
However, depending on the type of association you join, your organization may have a much more significant impact than that. Some of the ways associations impact policy include:
For some nonprofit organizations, their impact on policy can also take a more passive approach. For example, the National Council of Nonprofits publishes its Public Policy Agenda as a tool for organizations on state and national levels. The agenda outlines policy changes impacting things like tax policies and job creation, giving association boards the tools they need to mobilize more effectively.
In the nonprofit world, there is an association for literally everything, and they all have their purpose – from education to community building. However, there are some organizations whose only purpose is standardization.
These standards are based on factors like quality, compatibility with existing technology, safety specifications and costs. While some of these organizations exist on a national level, many of the oldest, including the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), set standards that allow development and integration on a global scale.
Whether your organization is a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) – lobbying can be a tool used to influence policy in your industry. However, your organization should always ensure you’re adhering to set IRS standards. As an example, “federal law prohibits (c)(3) charitable organizations from spending a ‘substantial part’ of their time and budget on lobbying.”
As mentioned above, associations can leverage members to contact policymakers and provide information on new laws and policies that can impact their roles or industries. However, associations can also take an active approach to lobbying with a few methods:
In both cases, associations can easily allocate funds, marketing resources and staff to interact with members or policymakers.
While there are plenty of association career opportunities to explore, for those interested in taking a direct role with policy impact, there are likely two avenues.
The first is associations and organizations focused on lobbying and setting the ethics and standards for those practices, including organizations like the National Association of State Lobbyists and the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics.
The second is within an association’s public relations or legislative departments. ASAE reports that “Top Government/Lobbying Positions” have a median salary of $144,000, and “Legislative Assistants” earn around $58,000.
In short, yes. Whether you’re directly involved with lobbying and standards or work as an advocate for your members and the people they serve, your role as an association professional has an impact on public policy. Not only does this influence the decisions you make in your role, but also the way you choose to interact with members, as they can be one of your most vital tools when enacting change.
Intro to Associations
As purpose-driven organizations, the goal of an association is to improve the lives of its members and the industries they serve. While this often happens through education and resources, it...Download Now
Jose Triana joined the Sidecar team as the Content Manager in 2021. He is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.
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