5 Ways to Assess Your Contract Lobbyist’s Value
Assessing a contract advocacy professional’s performance, and justifying the expense to board members, or even yourself, can be tricky.
Whether you hire a lobbyist to address a single issue, or to supplement the association staff with an ongoing, more comprehensive assignment, ask yourself these five questions when determining if they met expectations.
Did they identify subjects in the upcoming legislative session that may affect the association – positively or negatively – and help it develop positions and prioritize issues?
Because a contract lobbyist is working for multiple clients and reviews all legislation, an association should expect a heads-up about items in disparate proposed laws that might be of interest to the association, says Elena Lopez-Guzman, executive director of the California American College of Emergency Physicians.
“We are a small- to mid-sized association, but we often take positions on as many as 60 pieces of legislation each year, with at least 10 of those items classified as extremely important to us,” she says.
“A lobbyist who identifies pieces of proposed legislation that may have unintended consequences for association membership gives you a chance to take a proactive position.”
Did the lobbyist have access to, and easily schedule meetings with legislators or staff members, when needed?
“It’s important to remember that advocacy is relationship-based and it takes years to develop relationships in a legislative organization that is constantly changing,” points out Cynthia Moran, executive vice president of government relations, economics and health policy, for the American College of Radiology (ACR).
“You hire a lobbyist for those relationships, which means he or she should be able to schedule meetings you can’t get on your own.”
Does the lobbyist have access to a greater network than the association, including other business contacts – as well as legislative contacts?
In state-level advocacy efforts, the ability to tap into other organizations for potential support to strengthen a position is important, says Eugenia Krimer, director of state affairs for the ACR.
“The lobbyist should have other clients in the same industry, or have access to other businesses with similar concerns, so organizations can work together, if needed.”
Are reports focused on information that is unique to the association’s needs, and do they include more “inside” information versus “public” information?
While the timing of reports required from contract lobbyists can vary according to association needs, legislative calendars, and issues being debated, regular reports should be provided.
“I prefer quality over quantity when it comes to reports,” says Lopez-Gusman. “I want worthwhile information, not reports that contain information that can be cut and pasted into reports for a variety of clients.”
Lopez-Gusman says she expects to see an analysis of how changes or stalls in discussions affect the association, and not just an update on upcoming votes or committee actions.
Were your own expectations realistic at the outset?
“When you evaluate a lobbyist’s value to your organization, you must start first with your expectations,” says Lopez-Guzman. Value is determined by the situation for which you hired them.
“Just as you might hire one roofer to patch your roof, and another to replace it, there are a lot of lobbyists with different capabilities, so be clear about the task and results you want when you hire them.”
The best way to ensure a successful, productive relationship with a contract lobbyist is to be clear about expectations at the beginning of the relationship, in terms of objectives, reporting requirements, and overall communications, says Cynthia Moran.
“Choose a lobbyist who is, or can become, an expert on your association’s issues, has a good reputation, and has contacts,” she suggests.
“Remember, too, that successful advocacy is a combination of efforts from external lobbyists as well as internal staff and association members. A relationship with a contract lobbyist is a two-way street – requiring open communications from both sides and a commitment to a partnership.”