by Sallie Traxler
When NBIA members approved the Association's latest strategic plan, increasing public awareness of business incubation was a top initiative. Influencing legislative policies related to business incubation and entrepreneurial companies was an important part. We're in good standing to proceed, according to William Frenzel, senior policy fellow for the renowned Washington, D.C., policy think tank, the Brookings Institution.
"In some cases it won't take more than one call. No one's against you," Frenzel says. "You're not fighting a war against someone who's saying, 'I don't want incubators to do well this year.'"
The NBIA Board, Advisory Council, senior staff and a handful of members met last month in Washington to begin shaping a plan to tackle legislative affairs. In all, about 40 people were present for the half-day session, which provided a down-to-earth perspective on where NBIA can begin.
According to Frenzel, the real work is in the upfront planning. The entire membership must understand the goals and stand ready to organize and act. "You'd be surprised how many old organizations can't get unity, and many others who have unity but leave the work to the staff or a paid lobbyist," Frenzel says. "This is not the way you get the job done, you need every member of your organization carrying the ball everyone pulling together."
It is not that we have to start big. Frenzel suggests that we make a short list a very short list of items we can agree on and accomplish. The industry can begin by creating a simple, canned explanation of who we are and what we do, which any NBIA member can convey to legislators and contacts in local, state and federal government. "You have a great story but you can not imagine how many times you have to repeat it," Frenzel says. Include accurate numbers of companies, jobs and economic impact and then have everyone use the same information, he advises.
It isn't always necessary to go to the top. "Many people feel insulted if they can't see their congressman. Often, you are better off to meet with a member of staff, especially a member of committee staff, who understands the issue and has more time," Frenzel says. Everything works best when it is regularized. Create opportunities to see your congressman once a year or a little more if there is something important to accomplish. "Make an appointment, if they are not available see someone in the office and always leave five minutes before you are supposed to," Frenzel says.
He also believes that the most effective thing you can do is to invite local, state and federal-level politicians to your incubator. Don't make it a group activity; invite them one at a time. If you don't get a response, invite a member of staff first. "Then convince them to bring in the congressman. If you keep asking, it won't be a matter of if but when."
Senators are harder to reach because their districts are so large. Frenzel recommends incubators in the state get together, pick a showcase site and "pin a rose on it. Plague your senators until you get them there." All incubator professionals in the state should agree on the message you want those senators to hear.
"There are so many things that we all can be doing for our programs and for the industry," says NBIA Board Chairman Sam Pruett, who attended the briefing. "It won't be that daunting. We have more going for us than any of us realized."
Keywords: advocacy, effective communication, marketing and promotion, policy, stakeholder development
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