March 4, 2013

"Hello, My Name is...."

There are many reasons you may have joined your local HBA. Business is one, networking with industry peers is another. 
One of the best aspects of being an HBA member, in my opinion, is grass roots advocacy. Uh oh, there's that word again. A dear friend of mine explained to me once that the word advocacy may be a word that doesn't make a meaningful impact. At first I didn't believe that to be true but I have come to the realization that she is on target. 
For people who make politics a passion in life, it's an easy word to understand and the action that the word advocacy implies.  But when you hear the word advocacy it sometimes sounds so distant, no direct tug at your heart strings. Even the definition sounds cold; according to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, advocacy is defined as "the act or process of advocating or supporting a cause or proposal. Doesn't exactly ignite a "fire in the belly." Yet advocacy is what the end result of your membership does for our industry.

A better way to describe advocacy, when spoken in our building industry world, would be "the fight for housing." Or, to be very direct, "the fight for our careers, income, way of life." That is how I define advocacy, my own bottom line called income. In a past "Association Maximization" article that was posted in July 2011, I discussed "Political Synergy" (click here to read) and what happens at the national level of your NAHB membership. You can easily substitute national references for your state HBA's fight for housing because everything is truly about politics, particularly in our industry. When you advocate, or support a cause (your job), you are actually in the process of selling. Selling is nothing more than influencing someone to buy your product or service because they have a need for it or they see a benefit in it.  Having an open ended discussion brings out questions of concern, how it applies to a better situation and who it affects. 

The political process is no different and it's not complicated, but so many of our members seem to be intimidated by meeting with those in office or with those aspiring to be in office. Political discussion, and helping to create a clear vision for the cause, is no different then selling a home or selling your product (supply, service or trade). You have an item, you highlight the reason for that item, you "sell" the benefit of that item to the end user. 

Your HBA most likely has scheduled visits with the legislators in your state. They can be in the form of meeting in the legislators' office in the state capitol or possibly in their private offices. Maybe even a local diner. At national level, NAHB has it's annual Legislative Conference where many of our building industry peers gather to meet in with their respective members of Congress. There are also times of the year when your members of Congress are back in their home districts and, just like your state legislators, you can meet with them to discuss your future.
Some of you may want to know more and I would ask that you contact your executive officer, or local president, at your HBA. They should be able to give you are better idea of  how to take part in the fight for housing at the state and national levels. Politics, even at the national level, begin at the local HBA level because that is where they legislator was elected or will be re-elected.

Special note for associate members: becoming engaged in the fight for housing is a great way to understand what affects your business, demonstrates to builders that you care about the industry as well and you get to work shoulder to shoulder with builder members on issues that affect all of us. If it affects builders, it will affect you.

When you do decide to make it a priority to fight for housing, and you begin visiting with your state or federal representatives with groups from your local HBA  there are "things" you should be aware of from the outset and remember, it's exactly like what we do to earn our income; selling.

1. Understand the reason for the meeting. Know "our" talking points. If you don't understand the talking points ask someone from your HBA government affairs staff to clearly explain the talking points meaning and how they affect you.
2. Stay on message. You will have roughly 15 minutes to get your message through to your legislator. Keep him/her focused on the issue(s) at hand for the home building industry.
3. Make sure you have at least one associate in attendance who understands the issues and can speak to how the issue(s) affects on their own businesses so the legislator(s) understand that it is a building industry issue, not just builder related.
4. Have one or two of your group's members be the key speakers in the group, but make sure that they identify all in the meeting and how they are each related to the building industry.
5. Bring updated building industry literature, specific to reason for meeting, to leave with the legislator and have HBA staff follow up with whatever you could not answer for the legislator(s).
6. Invite your legislator(s) to one of your HBA events when their calendar permits.
1. Don't be unprepared. Shooting from the hip is great in old TV westerns but not when our industry's survival, your income, is on the line.
2. Don't discuss campaign contributions when discussing your reasons for the visit. Ever.

3. Don't allow a fellow member(s) to stray off message. It confuses the issues and the reason you set up the meeting will become lost in other discussions.
4. Don't forget to follow up with the legislator(s) on issues that were unresolved or he/she said would be taken care of (like co-sponsoring a bill).

There are probably more "do's and don'ts" that I have missed but the above are the heart of any successful legislative discussions. 

My name is Michael Kurpiel, CGA, CGP, and I am a  "Building Industry Advocate"

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