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Making change happen – Representing your members to government

Sep 02, 2019

Fifty Acres CEO + Founder Jo Scard shared top tips on how associations, not-for-profits and for-good organisations can work effectively with government to create a meaningful change.

Association members expect their association to provide a voice for them to government if there is an ongoing concern, or in reaction to an issue. Your association’s lobbying efforts may be the
most important activity you undertake for your members. While some associations have a wellresourced unit charged with this task, many don’t know where to begin.

Chill out
Associations can undertake a more formal approach than necessary, which can turn into a long list of requests. These requests may be inappropriate, out of context or unrealistic. Work out what your most important and realistic request is, and focus on making that change. For example, you may decide to seek a change of legislation or public funding for a program, such as education around an issue. After you determine what change you are seeking, you need to work out your strategy, and who you are going to approach.

Do the work
Seeking a significant change is likely to require a complex set of meetings with a range of stakeholders including government departments and committees. Think about who you will need to talk to, and even in what order you should meet with them to secure their influence. Creating a one to two page rationale outlining your request and reasoning, although a more detailed funding proposal will be needed if it becomes part of the government’s budget process.

Conducting background research prior to requesting meetings is a must. Find out whether the people you are wanting to meet with have existing views on your issue: what have they said before, who are the sorts of people who might influence them, what are the views of their colleagues? You can do this research online with key word searches, reviewing media sites, and reading Hansard.

Pick up the phone
Don’t send an email to an MP’s generic email address and assume that they will respond. That doesn’t happen. You need to be persistent. Think about how politicians operate in the world. It’s fast and busy. You have to be able to open doors and be heard – that’s what I think people get scared about. They think a formal letter or one email will do, or that they can host an event and invite ten people and they will all come. You have to really persist – and invite everyone!

Associations can approach their local Member for advice as well. Just remember that your Member will have an agenda. My suggestion would be to get a second opinion on any advice: if you speak to a Liberal MP also speak to a Labor Senator or vice versa. Success is about having realistic expectations, investing the time and doing the work. People don’t realise the enormity of breaking into that process for the first time.

Don’t let changes stop you
There has been fragility in our government over the last decade, with slim majorities and changes in ministries. But even if positions change, there is still a Prime Minister and government and they are still making decisions and spending money

Persistence pays off for – like for our client PANDA
We’ve worked with Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia to assist them with a number of funding rounds, and engagement around awareness. A stakeholder engagement audit involved speaking to people in government to ascertain what knowledge they had around depression (not a lot). We introduced PANDA to try to get some support. We made sure the people who needed to know about them, did. We contacted every federal politician and once they started talking amongst themselves we were able to progress the conversation. Any initial campaign is hard but it becomes easier after you have established your credibility and delivered on outcomes. PANDA has just received renewed funding, which is a great win.

Originally published in Answers for Associations’ The Associations Report August 

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