Why Policy Priorities Matter and Ways to Ensure They Align with your Members’ Thinking

Kathleen Shanley
July 29, 2021

Identifying the issues that are important to your members and developing related policy positions are key components of any membership association. Associations represent their members’ needs and advocate for policies that support and address the issues that keep their members up at night.

Here are 5 steps to make sure you get it right:

  • Develop a list of key issues based on communications with your members, staff, and committee members.
  • Survey your members. Our association surveys our members every two years and reviews the “approved” list every six months between surveys.
  • Survey your partner organizations (e.g., affiliates, specialty societies) for their top priorities.
  • Staff compile results, provide additional guidance or prior association precedent (e.g., letters to agencies or Congress) and provide pro’s and con’s on opining on an issue. 
  • Ask a representative committee to review and vote on the priorities. Submit the list for approval to your Board of Directors.  

You have your list of policy issues, now what? Develop your positions and strategies by answering these 10 questions:

  • What is the scope of the problem?
  • How widespread is the problem?
  • Why is the issue important right now?
  • How is your association a key player in addressing this issue (In other words, why should your opinion matter?)
  • What are the possible solutions?
  • Who can best address your issue (e.g., agency, legislator)?
  • Who are your allies?
  • Who are your opponents and what are their positions?
  • What relationships/connections do your members have to support your advocacy?
  • What vehicles do you have to advocate your position (e.g., legislation, rulemaking, communications campaign, coalitions, state or national house of delegates)?

Once you have your policy priorities and positions, periodically review them to ensure you are still focused on the right issues, remove issues that have been addressed, and identify whether there is any new science or evidence to support or oppose your position. Catalog your positions online or in an electronic compendium, so that others are clear where you stand.

As requests for your association’s position arise, develop your position approval process to ensure you are consistent in your statements and positions.

One last note, bad policy statements usually are designed and approved by a few people and without dialogue. Great policy statements are approved after broad review, lead one’s members in the direction they want to go, and represent the current thinking.

Kathleen Z. Shanley, PhD, CAE, is the Executive Vice President of Public Policy & Advocacy at the American Urological Association and Founder of Statice, LLC. She has served in the association C-suite for 30 years and is a board member of the American Association of Medical Society Executives.