How Millennials Advance Your Chamber's AgendaThursday, January 29, 2015
Part 3 of the blog series Adapting Your Chamber For The Millennial Generation.
One of the most important ways Chambers pursue their goal of growing successful businesses is by cultivating a favorable business climate. For many Chambers, legislative advocacy is the biggest benefit they provide to their members. Individual business owners don’t have the time to research policy alternatives and track legislative action. By rallying a large number of business voices behind a pro-prosperity agenda, the Chamber can advance great changes.
As I’ve outlined in prior posts, influence is a result of activity, and this is particularly true in government affairs. The more activity a Chamber can generate on an issue, the more likely they are to achieve their desired result. As the Millennial generation ascends, they will be needed to participate in the government affairs activities directed by the Chamber. How can you get them to act? It’s simple: you need to engage them by showing that your values match theirs.
OK, maybe that isn’t so simple. Your Chamber agenda may not match the values of your younger members. But don’t let the surface incongruence stop you from engaging Millennials in political advocacy.
Speak Their Language
Conventional wisdom says Millennials abhor politics. But using the right words can make all the difference. By appealing to their desire to create transformational change, you can get them to rally behind your priorities. You need to show them that the stakes are huge.That doesn’t mean staggering numbers or scare tactics.
Frame issues in terms that are significant to this generation. What is important to them? They value community, environmental stewardship, human rights, and basic needs. They want to make a difference that will impact the world. So, when you talk about your agenda, think big!
Don’t ask them to testify on a public infrastructure plan (snoozer!). Tell them they can be a part of tackling climate change by advocating for sensible road building. Even better if that plan includes bike and pedestrian access. You can’t lie to them, and they are sensitive to spin. So be honest, but speak in terms that will trigger their desire to accomplish big things.
Know Your Audience
Chamber advocacy at the state and federal levels is important, but cynicism among Millennials about “politicians” might hold them back from getting involved. They don’t believe they can make a difference at that level. They care deeply about creating change in their communities, so start them out with actions and issues at the local level.
In addition to wording, you also need to reflect their values in the issues you choose. Think beyond tax policy and infrastructure projects, and get creative with your agenda! If you have technology entrepreneurs in your membership, take on issues around internet access and net neutrality.
If you need to attract talent, advocate for public investments in community assets that will attract the brightest minds to locate (and work and start businesses) in your community. Explain to skeptical members how they will benefit from the youthful energy and talent pipeline that such investments will produce.
Remember: in order to know what will motivate them, you have to include them in creating the agenda. This kind of engagement has lots of benefits (see prior post), and getting their buy-in from the start means getting their activity when you need it.
It’s About Culture
Again, it’s difficult to characterize an entire generation, but generally speaking Millennials reject partisanship in favor of a more collaborative approach to problem solving. They understand and embrace the fundamental principle of compromise and expect they will have to give something to get something.
They also respond well to relationship development. It can take time to warm up, but once they are comfortable they want relationships that matter. Leverage this by getting them involved as volunteers on campaigns (political, sure, but also local non-partisan races and referendum efforts) and as candidates themselves. Introduce them to elected officials and take their views seriously. A member who speaks with passion about the importance of education might be a great representative of business on the school board some day.
When it comes to engaging Millennials, begin with the end in mind and keep your eye on the long-term. You can cultivate an army of supporters to advance pro-prosperity policies at all levels. Millennials often think of themselves as global citizens, so they want to create change beyond municipal boundaries. But they might need experience in their neighborhood before storming Capitol Hill.
Generating activity is key to demonstrating your Chamber’s influence. In my next post I will bring these lessons home and highlight how Millennials are shaping the cities and regions in which they live. Making your community a destination could be the key to success.