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The State Of Advocacy For Associations: What Are The Challenges?

Here at XYZ University, we recently conducted a study of more than 125 association executives to gather insight on the state of advocacy in associations. In our survey, we asked you what the major challenges were relating to providing advocacy as a service to members, here’s what you had to say.

This is the third in a series of blog posts around the topic of “Advocacy and Associations” that XYZ University will publish during the month of November.

Here at XYZ University, we recently conducted a study of more than 125 association executives to gather insight on the state of advocacy in associations. In our survey, we asked you what the major challenges were relating to providing advocacy as a service to members, here’s what you had to say.

Motivating members to get involved (83.6%):

If members aren’t motivated to get involved, this does create a major challenge because most associations rely on member volunteers to carry out advocacy efforts.

Democracy requires participation to be effective. Involvement from your members is essential.

Measuring or providing the outcomes of advocacy (73.6%):

Showing value in advocacy is difficult when most association members don’t even understand how the process works. Looking at an overview of the legislative process itself can be intimidating.

Showing benefits of advocacy can be very difficult when the process is slow and results can take years. It’s no wonder that the instant gratification-seeking Gen Ys don’t see value in advocacy. Millennials and Gen Xers expect things to happen quickly.

The results of your advocacy efforts take years to demonstrate and a lot of patience—something the under 40 crowd is not too keen on.

Explaining that advocacy is a member benefit (57.4%):

Well, is it? Do you have to be a member to benefit from the work your association is doing in advocacy?

Our survey found that 74.6% of associations get feedback from members that advocacy holds only minimal value for them. If your members don’t value it,  you won’t be able to convince them it’s a benefit. It’s not.

Engaging the younger generation in the process (40.9%):

Associations are working to reach out to Gen X and Gen Y where they are, using social media to communicate information about the advocacy efforts. Associations post updates and information about advocacy on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, on blogs and even YouTube, places Gen X and Y look for information.

Most associations are using social media, yet still not connecting with Gen X and Y in a meaningful way. It’s not enough to just make a post on Facebook; are you engaging your members?

Reaching the younger generation is not the problem, the problem is making it meaningful to them, getting them to care enough to act, to actually jump in and get involved.

The challenge, as we see it is that advocacy is still being promoted as a member benefit the same way it was 20 years ago. The expectation is that members value advocacy like they once did, and that just isn’t  happening. One thing is clear, efforts today aren’t working. These challenges need to be recognized and overcome if advocacy is going to be an effective way for associations to spend time and resources.

A special thank you to Shannon Neeser, contributing researcher and Melissa Harrison, design, for their work on the 2012 Advocacy in Associations Survey report.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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