Getting Started With Your Chapter Government Relations Programs

Many chapters may not have extensive government relations programs in place.  The following activities and suggestions can help build a solid foundation for such a program and make your job as government relations chair much easier. 

  1. Sign up to receive via email AFP’s Public Policy Updates.  The Updates, which are distributed to all interested members on a monthly basis, keep members informed on what’s going on in the United States and Canada (both on the federal level and in the states and provinces) with developments related to public policy and fundraising.  They are an invaluable source of information and can be used for articles in a chapter newsletter.  To receive the Updates, go to the AFP website (www.afpglobal.org) and click on the “Discussions” label on the right-hand side of the page under “Member Gateway Quicklinks.”  Type in your name and email address and click on Public Policy Updates.  Once the information is submitted, you should begin receiving the Updates every month.
  2. Review AFP’s weekly eWire newsletter.  The eWire, which is distributed to members on Monday of every week, contains stories and updates on issues of importance to AFP and the fundraising profession.  There are often stories related to government relations in eWire, so be sure to look over the newsletter often. 
  3. Identify members of your chapter who are interested in government relations and can assist you in some of your activities.  Members who have served previously as Government Relations Chairs may still be willing to help out.  Working in a small, informal committee can provide more resources and experience when working on government relations.  Several chapters use this approach and have a Government Relations Committee to oversee this area.
  4. Query members of your chapter to see if they have contacts with any local, state, or federal officials.  When an important issue arises, the most critical contacts are those personal relationships that chapter members may have with government officials and politicians.  Those members may not always be willing to use and push their contacts for every issue, so it’s important to prioritize and make sure to contact these members only when the situation absolutely warrants it.  Use the Key Contacts Sheet (in the appendix) to note which members know which officials.
  5. Get to know your legislators.  Find out if they have any particular philanthropic or charitable interests.  Nearly all legislators, both federal and state/local, have websites that list biographical data.  Sometimes staff can provide this type of information as well.
  6. Gather government relations resource materials that will help members better understand the legislative process. Libraries will have information on local legislators, the function of various committees, departments, and agencies, and the legislative process (both at the state and federal levels).  Some states publish a government handbook that contains such information.  Others hold an annual orientation workshop at the beginning of each state legislature session. Attending such a session or getting these materials might not only benefit the chapter, but your own organization as well. You can contact the AFP Public Affairs Department for more information (paffairs@afpglobal.org).
  7. Use the Internet to keep informed of public policy developments.  Almost all states now have extensive websites that allow individuals to search for bills related to a specific topic.  Some sites have features that will alert users whenever a bill has been introduced that contains a particular keyword as defined by the individual.  Using the Internet is a good way to keep informed of legislative developments. See the sections on “Monitoring Issues” and “Helpful Websites” for more information about monitoring issues and legislation.
  8. Link with other nonprofit organizations that are involved in government relations and develop allies.  An excellent group to keep in touch with is your state’s association of nonprofit organizations or similar entity.  While each nonprofit will have its own unique causes to address, fundraising issues cut across the sector and are often supported by a variety of groups.  Make alliance when you can to enhance your efforts.  AFP’s Public Policy Department can help you make contact with appropriate organizations. 
  9. Plan how to integrate public policy into the chapter’s everyday events and activities.  Think long-term about planning to get government relations regularly integrated into your chapter’s operations. Is it appropriate to get a local public official to make some introductory remarks at a National Philanthropy Day event or other chapter meeting?  Is there enough interest to schedule a session related to public policy at a chapter conference?  Other events may also be appropriate venues to integrate certain aspects of public policy and government relations.
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