Dec 17, 2012

Advocacy: Uphill in the Snow

By Peter Calcara, Vice President - Government Relations

There is an old joke people make when referring to their grandparents’ criticisms of what they perceive as a lax culture. In a good-natured mimic of their elders, they say, “When I was young, I walked to and from school! … In the snow … in my bare feet … and it was uphill … both ways!”

Walking uphill, both ways, is what it feels like in the association advocacy game. But it’s not a joke.

Like many associations, the PICPA has a government relations program that provides “advocacy” on behalf of its membership. Just so we are on the same page, my working definition of advocacy includes developing relationships with lawmakers, staffers, and regulators; monitoring legislation and regulations that could affect the profession (and the clients our members serve); and educating policymakers —referred to by some as “lobbying”— on the pros and cons of related issues. This is not an all-inclusive list, but it’s a good starting point.

The PICPA promotes advocacy as one of the core services it provides when we encourage membership in our organization. It’s a service that members cannot easily or affordably procure on their own.  And, like most associations, the PICPA struggles with getting members engaged in our advocacy efforts—whether it is contacting legislators about an issue, participating in our annual Day on the Hill program, or political involvement through support of our CPA-PAC political action committee.

XYZ University, which is a management consulting firm, recently did a survey on the topic of “Advocacy and Associations” that focused on the demographic challenges that lay ahead. (I highly recommend you check out their website.) Of the 125 association executives surveyed by XYZ, nearly 83 percent promote advocacy as a member benefit. The survey also found that nearly 75 percent of these associations receive feedback from their members who say advocacy holds “minimal” value. Ouch!

Compounding this perception problem is the generational divide on the importance of advocacy between Baby Boomers and younger generations. In the survey, a grand total of zero associations claimed to have “great” participation and interest in advocacy from Generation X or Generation Y. Only about 12 percent reported good participation or interest of those under 40.

How does the PICPA stack up? Well, my instinct tells me that if we had a 12 percent participation level by all PICPA members, not just those under 40, in our advocacy efforts, it would be an all-time HIGH! Our CPA-PAC participation level, for instance, is usually around 5 percent, which means 95 percent are taking a free ride on the backs of a handful of members.

For the PICPA to be successful—in fact, for democracy to be successful—participation is essential. While we struggle with this issue year after year, other organizations, such as the trial bar and organized labor, continue to eat our lunch in Harrisburg. I urge you to understand that by doing nothing you simply become as defenseless as a quarterback without a line in front of him. In the world of politics, if you remain absent, there will always be someone who is present to pick up your ground.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “A democratic society depends upon an informed and educated citizenry.” It’s time for all of us to be more involved. It’s easy to identify the problems, but often times it is far more difficult to know how to be part of the solution.

What “value” do you see in PICPA’s advocacy efforts? How can we make it more meaningful?

I implore you to take this opportunity to learn more about PICPA’s advocacy efforts and how your career has been, and continues to be, shaped and influenced by actions taken daily on your behalf in Harrisburg.

So be informed! Be involved! And if you simply don’t have the time to be a part of the process in Harrisburg, let us know what we can do to better serve you and your CPA credential. With your help, maybe we can make the advocacy walk one that may still be uphill, but only in one direction.

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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.
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