Beyond Government Relations: Effective government engagement for social impact (2 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 second of a three part series.

So how can not-for-profit leaders learn from those who are effectively engaging with government? Based on over 20 years of experience in the for-purpose sector, we are sharing five principles that underpin effective government engagement:

BUILD IN-HOUSE CAPABILITY

It is crucial that enduring and sustainable relationships with government are built within your organisation and owned by management and team members, thus allowing the transfer of knowledge and building of your team’s capabilities.

How can this translate into action? Build capability by providing training to a range of people within your organisation, including your Board, Executive and other staff.

BE A TORTOISE, NOT A HARE

We’re not going to beat around the bush here –to see meaningful results, government engagement is a medium to long term game. Major funding, policy or awareness raising wins are not going to be achieved over night. Success in this arena requires building, maintaining and strengthening relationships, ideally at multiple altitudes of government…which takes time. Instead, many organisations engage government at points of crisis or during an election – these are typically the worst times to reach out and ask for assistance. Relationships need to be built before issues arise, with systems and strategy laid down that can be activated when needed.

How can this translate to action? Develop a 12-18 month activity plan, which you update on a quarterly basis.

ENSURE RELEVANCE AND PROVIDE EVIDENCE

If the goals you are working towards align with a politician’s personal and party priorities, you’re one lucky duck. Feel free to move onto the next paragraph. For everyone else, it’s key that your approach is focussed on mutual benefit and you only share news and updates that is relevant to your audience. Pitch to their interests by asking yourself what their drivers and motivations are. This may means changing your language or framing so that what you’re saying hits home. Once your message has been refined, it needs to be backed by credible evidence. This can range from providing stakeholder insights or postcode data to organising for a politician to meet your team or see a problem/opportunity for themselves.

How can this translate to action? Read their maiden speech, which is one of the best indicators of a politician’s driver and goals, and then think about how you can align your goals with their purpose. A tactic to enhance this is to undertake electorate mapping, which is further explained in the next chapter.

HAVE A HEART

Government and the people who work within it are often demonised. We repeatedly hear how they lie, cheat, steal and lust for power all whilst operating at snail’s pace. This dominant rhetoric can sometimes cloud our judgement and cause us to forget that these are (predominantly well-intentioned) human beings. Of course, individual politicians and other bureaucrats will have their own aspirations and agendas…but keep in mind that they also have feelings and families. So go on – have a heart.

How can this translate to action? Send a thank you card, invitation to an event or consolation note. These simple acts of humanity can have surprisingly high ROI, particularly when they are genuine in nature.

DON’T BE A ONE MAN BAND

Establishing relationships, whether that’s with other not-for-profits, businesses or government at the organisation-to-organisation level is a no brainer. By working across your team, Board and supporters, you can: leverage individual’s networks, expertise and passion; mitigate risks associated with staff turnover; and better share the load – after all, many hands make light work. For optimal results, government engagement requires a systemic and structural approach which exists above and beyond the movements and contacts of individuals and is owned by the whole organisation.

How can this translate into action? Ask your key supporters and Board members to get involved in government engagement activities by doing things such as writing to their local MP, mentioning issues and organisations that matter to them.

The final article in this blog series provides practical tips on how to get ready for and get started with embedded government engagement.

Does this article resonate with your or does it hit a nerve? Have we hit the spot or missed the mark? Regardless, we’d love to hear from you at info@sparkstrategy.com.au.

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