One of the most effective tools in a government relations strategy is an active grassroots network. Your involvement is a key component of ensuring that the financial industry is heard in the PA State legislature.
Members of the legislature are always eager to touch base with the people in their districts and welcome the opportunity to spend time with the constituents whose interests they represent. What better way to give members a firsthand look at your bank's importance to the community than by inviting them to the bank for a visit? Even better, collaborate with other financial leaders in the community to set up a "Banking Day" for members and their staff. This kind of orientation is mutually beneficial: the member can make valuable district contacts and may receive local publicity, and you and your banking colleagues can lay the foundation for a quality relationship.
Keep in mind that you may have to be flexible when it comes to scheduling an event or meeting with your member – provide several possible dates and, if a staffer offers to attend in the member's place, take him or her up on the offer!
At the bank, be sure to provide a way for the member to meet your employees who will appreciate a chance to meet an elected official. Before or after the tour, consider arranging an informal gathering so that you and your employees have a chance to ask questions and to tell him or her about your bank. You may want to host a lunch, a coffee break or a morning breakfast with doughnuts and O.J. Try to keep the entire visit under two hours.
During the member's visit, share with him or her all the beneficial things your bank does for the community – talk about charitable donations and community service projects and have hard facts available about the number of loans you make per year and the number of jobs you've helped to create. Finally, show your member first-hand all that your bank has to do to comply with Washington regulations. This is a perfect time to hammer home to your member an understanding and appreciation of the hardship that massive amounts of regulatory paperwork can place on your bank.
To publicize your member's visit, consider putting out a press release and writing an article for "Advocacy & Insights" or paBanker Magazine. If you and the member discussed specific banking issues, you may want to share that information with the Association's staff lobbyists – this sort of inside information is often very helpful on the lobbying front. Finally, be sure to follow up with the member and his or her staff after the visit and thank them for taking the time to visit with you.
Top 10 Grassroots Tips
- Communicate Effectively
Put your thoughts in your own words. This is especially important if you are responding to something you read. Legislators who receive numerous letters with identical wording may discount them as part of an organized pressure campaign.
- Policy Arguments Should Focus on the Local Impact
PA Bankers can advocate the banking industry’s view on the impact of legislation on banks across Pennsylvania, but we cannot explain how legislation will affect your financial institution and your employees directly. Legislators want to know what effect policies will have at home.
- Don’t Just Visit When You Need a Favor
You know the feeling you get when certain individuals only contact you when they need a favor. Legislators are no different. To build a relationship with a legislator, invest the time by scheduling a lunch, invite him/her into your bank or to a special event or branch opening, and be sure to respond to the legislator’s questions quickly.
- Do Your Homework
Research your lawmaker’s professional, legislative and personal interests by going to www.pabanker.com. Which committees is he/she on? PA Bankers staff is always willing to provide you with information on legislators.
- Schedule an Appointment When You Want a Personal Visit
Most members of the General Assembly try to balance their time. They are more than willing to meet with constituents but appreciate the courtesy of an appointment.
- Know Your Subject Matter Inside and Out
If you are going to be a spokesperson for an issue or a cause, then you should be prepared not only to define it but also to explain and defend it. Association staff and Volunteer Banker Committee Members are always available to assist in this process.
- Use Your Resources
PA Bankers have developed a Government Relations website on which you can look up information on specific issues, print and e-mail advocacy letters, and access information on your legislators. Visit www.pabanker.com and click on “Government Relations.”
- Never Guess
When communicating with elected officials, get straight to the point of the meeting and state your case clearly and concisely. Be prepared to answer any questions the legislator may have. However, never guess. If you do not have a response to a particular question, offer to look into it and get back to him or her with the answer.
- Utilize Your Events to Grow a Relationship
Has your bank announced a new program or participated in a senior citizen event, opened a new branch, etc.? Utilize your events by inviting elected officials to attend or speak. Invite your legislators into the bank on a yearly basis.
- Build Credibility
As in every relationship, trust and respect are earned over time. Strive to ensure you know the facts on legislative issues and keep commitments. Legislators are inundated with “expert” requests; they work with people they trust to accurately filter this information.