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(Photo by www.ChuckFazio.com.) In his acceptance remarks as the TRENDS 2013 Association Executive of the Year at the Salute to Association Excellence, ASAE CEO John H. Graham IV, CAE (right, on stage with TRENDS publisher Joel Poznansky) discussed three challenges facing the association community in the quest to stay relevant: the use of technology, the change in the country's demographics and advocating for the association community itself. Here is an excerpt of Graham's remarks regarding advocacy:
Fifteen years ago, Red Cavaney, then the CEO of the American Plastics Council, gave a speech accepting this award where he called associations an “American institution at risk.”
Red challenged association professionals to put their own interests aside when possible, and work to protect the entire association sector and its role in the preservation of our liberties and free enterprise system.
Red said then, “It is imperative that we have some political capital to expend in support of our institution and its collective interests.
“We cannot forever remain silent in the face of critics, or we will become marginalized.”
Fifteen years later, Red’s speech has never been more relevant or prophetic.
As vital as they are to advancing America’s industries and professions and blending the interests of government and the private sector, associations are too often outsiders in the policymaking equation.
We represent so many different constituencies, and it’s too easy to put the blinders on when it comes to prioritizing our advocacy agendas.
There’s also a pervasive tendency in the press and on Capitol Hill to characterize associations as disparate entities, fundamentally dissimilar from each other, each with their own special interests to protect and advance.
Of course, there are always industry-specific issues that your members want you to focus on. But we can’t forget that we are all part of a larger association community, and the more we are viewed as a collective, cohesive sector, the more influence we will wield when Congress decides to take up tax reform or another round of lobbying reform.
Let’s not be fooled or complacent, there are some issues that have been simmering for a while now that would negatively impact most of the organizations represented in this room. And we need to be together on those issues if and when the fight comes to us.
ASAE has always been the professional home for association executives. We will continue to make sure our members have the educational opportunities, the career advancement opportunities, the latest publications, and all the other tools they need to perform their jobs effectively and manage their organizations efficiently.
However, I hope you have recognized that ASAE has significantly ramped up its advocacy presence on behalf of our community. Why, because I don’t think we can afford not to have a voice when it comes to issues effecting associations, including:
• First Amendment rights to lobby; protecting the privilege of tax-exemption for all organizations, with the understanding that tax exemption is a privilege and one that comes with responsibilities and expectations;
• Making sure that tax reform does not adversely impact our ability to do our work, and safeguarding and advancing the meetings industry, which is the life blood of many associations and frankly, very important to the economies of many municipalities and the nation as a whole.
Those aren’t the only issues we focus on, but those are big picture issues that ASAE has sworn to protect.
I also think ASAE has to keep building that sense of community among associations and help ensure that associations have a strong industry brand when it comes to engaging in advocacy and educating outside audiences about what it is that we do, because associations have a great story to tell, not just individually but about what we do collectively as a community….
[M]ake no mistake, decisions will be made on issues whether we’re at the table or not. We NEED to be at that table, and we need to be heard.
To that end, I look forward to working together with all of you to make sure associations remain as vital tomorrow as they are today.