Structuring Your Government Affairs Program

Many components comprise the framework of a government affairs program of an association. Ultimately, a strong formal structure will help ensure an organization is optimizing its resources as well as following association best practices. Here are the three essential areas you should focus on when structuring your government affairs program.

1. Policy Making and Approval Process

For most associations, the Board of Directors is the ultimate decision-making or approval body for the organization. The Board, however, has jurisdiction over all matters of the association. Thus, policy proposals are often best formulated within a committee or similar group which can spend more time and effort on a particular policy and are composed of experts on the issue.

The number of committees depends on the needs of the association and whether the policies are legislative or regulatory. Many associations have just one government affairs committee that handles all of its public policy needs. Others have one dedicated to legislative issues and one for regulatory matters. Some associations have committees for each core issue area. The key is to not have a disproportionate number of committees compared to the size of the organization where the structure becomes too cumbersome to manage. Task forces are often a good alternative to addressing those issues that have a finite duration.

Once a committee signs off on a policy recommendation, it is then up to the Board to make it the position of the association.

2. Coordination of Activities

It is essential to have one person who coordinates all the moving parts of the government affairs program to make sure you are maximizing your resources. However, depending on the size of your organization you may have one person who coordinates all of the activities or you may have one, or several people, who are responsible for particular committees, activities, or issue areas.

In a small association, a director of government affairs or similar position can have the responsibility of staffing all of the public policy committees, covering all of the issue areas and undertaking the activities of lobbying, coordinating grasstops and grassroots outreach. Larger associations will tend to have a vice president of government affairs who oversees the policy areas and then several if not dozens of staff or consultants who handle specific issue areas and/or are focused on federal or state lobbying.

The key is to ensure that the policy recommendations being formulated by committees and staff are properly vetted and tracked and the right resources are being utilized.

3. Implementation of Policy Objectives

The final component is the successful implementation of the policies. While staff has the primary responsibility of moving the public policy objectives of an association forward, volunteer leaders of the association are a critical piece to success. The activities of your government affairs program should therefore incorporate members of your Board, committees, and general membership into its structure.

Board members and public policy committee chairs should attend meetings on Capitol Hill and the administration as both leaders of the association, issue experts in their own right, and in some cases, as constituents. Volunteer leaders can also assist in reaching out to members of the association as their colleagues to assist with the grasstops and grassroots lobbying campaigns. Finally, involving volunteer leaders can be invaluable in helping the decision makers in the association see and understand firsthand any political challenges in trying to push policy objectives.

The structure of the government affairs program of an association can vary significantly from one organization to another. However, they should all share the same basic principles and components to help ensure compliance with best practices and achieve success.


Tristan North

Director, Government Relations/Public Affairs (GRPA)

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