A Fresh Approach to Advocacy

September 1, 2014, Department, by Kevin O'Hara

NRPA’s Vice President of Urban and Government Affairs details changes to our advocacy efforts and how members can get involved in the new plan.A 50-year anniversary is a great opportunity for any association to do some self-reflection. As we review our advocacy strategies leading up to NRPA’s 50th birthday, we think it’s time for some improvements to our advocacy approach that will meet the challenges of 2015 and beyond, while still maintaining our critical advocacy leadership role.

To improve the effectiveness of NRPA’s federal public policy advocacy efforts, we will make several changes in our longstanding annual approach. These include:

  • Conducting targeted legislative fly-in sessions geared toward key members of Congress (such as those who sit in pivotal positions on key committees of jurisdiction) by recruiting NRPA members and involved citizens who reside and operate programs within their respective districts to make in-person visits. This constituency-based “grasstops” approach is being increasingly utilized by associations to best align limited advocacy resources, thus ensuring that NRPA is getting the most bang for our advocacy buck.
  • Better aligning NRPA advocacy efforts and the congressional calendar. In years past, Congress operated under a relatively predictable annual schedule. NRPA’s Legislative Forum was originally envisioned to occur during the annual appropriations season, when lawmakers determined how to allocate federal dollars to efforts that help park and recreation agencies and related programs. In recent years, for a host of reasons, the congressional calendar has become less predictable and therefore having a spring “fly-in” no longer makes sense. A targeted approach allows us to respond to the latest developments in the congressional calendar, ensuring that our visits are timely and relevant. 

The above grasstops approach and others (such as joint advocacy letters) will replace the traditional annual Legislative Forum. The Forum has proven to be less strategic than activities that are more geographically targeted and well-timed to the Congressional schedule. Moreover, this improved advocacy targeting will help NRPA optimize precious budget funds and improve overall return on investment for funds that are expended. In other words, we are able to make stronger advocacy strides without implications to your bottom line as a member. 

If you, your state association, a group from your agency or involved citizens would like to visit elected officials in Washington, D.C., NRPA will continue to support these visits through:

  • Assistance in planning and coordinating your visit; NRPA can also accompany you on visits if so desired
  • Customized trainings and briefings
  • Webinars in advance of your visit
  • In-person training on key legislation
  • NRPA briefing materials and leave-behinds
  • Regular information updates on issues that matter via NRPA communications tools (Parks & Recreation Magazine, Advocacy Insider, Top 5, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

Finally, NRPA is looking strategically at how to leverage the power of our membership to make their voices heard in the communities where they are making an impact. Based on industry best practices and the latest advocacy innovations from other associations, we will be piloting “Power of Parks District Advocacy” days in some targeted areas in the summer and fall of 2014. We will evaluate the results of these pilot in-district advocacy days with the aim of rolling out a nationwide “Power of Parks Fly-Out” during Park and Recreation Month in 2015.

Your agencies are constantly improving and evolving based on the needs of your community. Your national association aspires to do the same. Changed circumstances on Capitol Hill call for a fresh approach. I am excited about the new targeted approach and strongly believe this allows us to leverage the power of your stories in a strategic way that maximizes our impact. 

Kevin O’Hara is NRPA’s Vice President of Urban and Government Affairs.

Advocacy Approach FAQ

What is the new advocacy approach of NRPA? 

To improve the effectiveness of NRPA’s federal public policy advocacy efforts and remain relevant in the current climate of Capitol Hill, NRPA will:

•    Conduct targeted and specific legislative fly-in sessions, also known as constituency-based “grasstops” advocacy;

•    Provide NRPA members with one-on-one support, resources and tools to conduct visits with elected officials in Washington, D.C.; and 

•   Focus on public policy at the local level by leveraging the power of members within local communities. 

Why is NRPA changing their advocacy approach? 

We recognize that the climate on Capitol Hill has changed, and thus we too much change our approach to remain relevant and ensure the effectiveness of NRPA’s federal public policy advocacy efforts. Our new approach allows us to respond to developments in the congressional calendar, ensuring that our visits are timely and relevant.  

Is NRPA discontinuing the annual Legislative Forum? 

The annual Legislative Forum event will no longer take place. NRPA has developed an ongoing strategic and more effective advocacy approach that includes activities that are more geographically targeted and well-timed to the Congressional schedule. 

Is NRPA moving away from advocacy efforts? 

No. For 50 years, NRPA has been a champion for federal advocacy and this continues to be a core part of the association’s mission. We are modernizing and improving our advocacy approach to best align with the new climate on Capitol Hill and remain relevant. 

Will NRPA still support advocacy by members and citizens? 

Yes! NRPA will continue to keep you informed of important policy issues, action items and the latest advocacy news through magazine articles, newsletters and blog posts. 

If you would like to visit elected officials in Washington, D.C., let us know! NRPA will support these visits and can help with planning and coordinating or even accompanying you on visits if so desired. We’ll also provide trainings, materials and other resources to help you make the most of your visit and ensure you are prepared. NRPA will also be working closely with members in specific local communities and districts as part of the targeted “grasstops” advocacy efforts. 

In what way can I be involved in advocacy moving forward? 

There are a number of ways you can get involved, from advocating at the local level in your community to supporting national efforts through emailing and calling elected officials. You can also get involved through NRPA’s Public Policy Committee, sharing your impact stories with us and participating in discussions on NRPA Connect