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From Concern to Cooperation: How to Use Grassroots and Lobbying to Build Your PAC

While some look for a “silver bullet” to raise PAC funds, we sometimes forget that it’s many things, rather than one thing, that changes a PAC’s bank account. A constant dilemma among PAC professionals is how to advance the PAC when the organizational culture has been averse to it at worst, and at best, ambivalent.

I heard some good news from Micah Intermill, Director of Advocacy for the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA). Micah, along with his colleagues Maribeth Bersani, Senior Vice President of Public Policy, and Paul Williams, Director of Public Policy & State Affiliate Relations, have facilitated an attitude change in ALFA member’s attitudes toward the PAC.

The result? A 400% increase in members who sign prior authorization forms, an 800% increase in the number of lobby day participants, an almost 600% increase in PAC receipts, and members who understand the value of the Public Policy department.

I interviewed Micah to find out how they did it.

Q:  Describe the PAC challenges you and the team were facing:

The assisted living industry is regulated by the states, there’s not a lot of federal legislation, so our members hadn’t requested us to have a huge federal presence. We also have a competing trade association and they were ahead of us relative to PAC engagement. Our members didn’t see why they needed to contribute to two PACs.

And of course, some of our members felt that “PACs were evil.”

Q: What were you doing that wasn’t working?

We did have a bit of an obsession over trying to get prior approval forms signed. We got so used to hearing “no” that we just stopped asking.

Using some of your materials you created for us, we found that an incremental approach to their involvement was what led to greater acceptance. We started to focus on getting more money from where we already had strong support.

Q: You mentioned that emphasizing other aspects of political involvement helped grow the PAC. How?

We started to concentrate on creating and promoting a D.C. lobby day that would emphasize the importance of grassroots and their federal lobbying work – not the PAC.

One particularly vocal member was firmly in the other camp – he didn’t see the value of taking a day to go to D.C. and meet with legislators.  He said that he’d been to those events before and he didn’t think they were valuable and that he “was not optimistic” about the upcoming event. But he did attend.

Through the cooperation of key members and staff we were able to execute a good event that made people see the value of the grassroots and the lobbying function which in turn helped them see the importance of the PAC. It was an example of the cliché that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

In fact, we had an 800% increase in lobby day attendance.

Q: How did your members respond to the event?

We saw a 400% increase in the number of member companies who signed their prior approval forms. One converted member said, “It’s clear to me that ALFA has turned the corner,” meaning that we had finally proven the need for more PAC involvement.

I really believe that demonstrating the value and effectiveness of your lobbying and grassroots will help build your PAC.

The bottom line: Strive for excellence in all three disciplines in the political involvement function, rather than emphasizing your favorite functions. Each one can advance the others.