Beyond Government Relations: Effective government engagement for social impact (3 of 3)

In line with the launch of our new joint venture in partnership with Neil Pharoah, Spark Government Engagement, we share with you our thoughts on how to engage government to drive social impact. This article is the last of a three part series.

GETTING READY…

If you now recognise the value of building the capability of your team to engage with government, you’re likely keen to get started. To set yourself up for success, before developing your government engagement strategy, it is critical to:

Do your research

Ensure you understand the government stakeholders with whom you are going to engage. Who are they? What are their priorities and interests? Are they in a marginal seat? Reading a politician’s maiden speech is an excellent way to get an insight into their areas of focus and concern. As well as researching individuals, it is also helpful to know about the regulatory and legislative landscape. Are there any major reforms in the works? Is new legislation due for release shortly?

Know your value

This should hopefully be the easy part – clearly articulating your organisation’s story, purpose and the value you deliver. This is where not-for-profit organisations often excel. However, the challenge is not in an organisation’s ability to understand the impact they are creating but in effectively externally communicating what impact they are creating and how. Addressing social problems is complex, so not-for-profits need to ensure that how they communicate this is clear. Ensuring that this narrative is well understood will support the case for why and how government should know and care about your organisation.

… AND GETTING GOING

Planning your government engagement activities may not be the most exciting part of this endeavour,  but it is key to success. At its heart, this plan outlines your audience and the activities you will enact to engage them. It can be simple, sophisticated or somewhere in-between, depending on your resourcing and objectives.

Know your audience

Who is it important to understand and build relationships with?

  • Local, state and federal government representatives;
  • Ministers and shadow ministers;
  • Members and senators;
  • Policy departments;
  • Central agencies; and/or
  • Political parties and their groups, such as interest or ‘friends of’ groups.

Activity pick ‘n’ mix

If you’re stumped for activities to populate your plan, start by trying the following:

  • Sending regular personalised communications such as thank you cards, consolation notes, your newsletter or annual report, letters of support etc;
  • Developing and distributing a fact sheet about your organisation and how it impacts a politician’s electorate, using quantitative and qualitative evidence;
  • Organising a meeting with an individual politician or representatives of a relevant party group;
  • Inviting government stakeholders to your events;
  • Scheduling a visit for a politician to learn more about your business and see your employees at work;
  • Encouraging key supporters and Board members to write to their local MP with information about the work your organisation does and why it is important to them;
  • Sending an update of your organisation’s recent progress, projects and items of interest;
  • Attending a branch meeting; and
  • Electorate mapping (see next section for more details).

These activities ideally happen on an ongoing basis to ensure your government stakeholder has a comprehensive and current understanding of your organisation. To increase awareness of your organisation and add value, you can ask whether it is possible to share news and events relating to your business on their website, through newsletters etc. This can provide the politician with relevant local content and benefit your brand equity.

It is important to note that, on their own, these actions are not an ask or a form of lobbying. They are a bi-partisan, low pressure means of creating a platform for regular and relevant engagement.

This blog series has talked to our experience of how not-for-profits in Australia engage government, with a focus on what we have found to be most effective as well as practical tips for implementation. It has also touched on traditional approaches and how these are largely failing the social sector. Does it resonate with you or do you disagree entirely? Would you like to learn more about our approach or would you like to share your experience with us? We’d love to hear from you at info@sparkstrategy.com.au.

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