How to improve your government relations – no matter the size of your patient advocacy group

Dec 20, 2017
How to improve your government relations – no matter the size of your patient advocacy group

Government Relations (GR) is one of the single most important responsibilities for patient advocacy groups. Having a proactive GR program gives groups a better chance of their voice being heard both locally and nationally while improving their chances of making the all-important changes that provide better care for the patients they represent.

But can desired GR outcomes only be achieved with significant funding? And how can smaller groups have the same effect as their larger counterparts?

Anne DarConte, CAE, Advocacy Professional at HillStaffer, as well as a recent speaker at this year’s American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Annual Meeting, gives her top tips for achieving GR goals – no matter what the size of your patient advocacy organization.

Create a government relations strategy

I always like to reference the Sun Tzu quote when talking about the value of a GR strategy: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Simply put, defining relevant activities without a cohesive plan and vice versa will lead to failure. Therefore, before even thinking about what to do, it’s best to understand what you want to accomplish with GR.

One of the best ways to identify GR priorities is by sending out a simple questionnaire to your organization asking for their thoughts. Understanding what problems exist and need to be addressed then gives your group the framework for preparing a cohesive plan of action.

Use your stories

One of the most ironic aspects of patient advocacy organizations that struggle to build good GR programs is that they fail to take advantage of their most powerful asset: the personal stories they inherit from patients.

These stories represent personal reflections of public needs and are therefore a good source for government officials to tap into as part of their own attempts to build a relationship with the public.

The obvious strategy, therefore, is to use these stories to your advantage. Utilizing them to tug at the heartstrings of decision makers leads to legislators supporting patient advocates’ perspectives, so increasing their influence on government decisions. At the same time, government officials are held in higher esteem with the public as they are making decisions that coincide with public needs. It’s a win-win situation for both parties!

Collaborate internally to improve effectiveness externally

Sadly, in too many organizations, functional roles and responsibilities tend to be treated as distinct and unrelated – but this is wrong. Only by working across departments can organizations achieve added value for all their activities, including GR.

Make sure every department is involved in GR-related discussions to determine everyone’s perspective and to give a more collaborative, engaging sense of the organization pushing toward an end goal.

By cross collaborating, GR efforts are strengthened, thus providing a huge opportunity for any patient advocacy organization to raise its profile and likelihood of success. Therefore, the drive for better GR should be embedded throughout an entire organization.

Creativity trumps funding

Too often, patient advocacy groups with little funding feel they can’t communicate their message properly. But in today’s technological era, it’s never been easier to create an awareness campaign and in turn, spread your own brand.

Take the Ice Bucket Challenge for example. It really is the simplest idea, yet went on to become a global phenomenon – and all with zero money behind it.

With a proactive plan in place, you will have some idea of what tactics you will use already. But remember, the key isn’t funding. The key is creativity.

I am a strong believer that it doesn’t matter how much backing an organization has or how big it is – it can still have stellar GR results regardless. Hopefully, with these tips in mind, you’ll be improving your own GR success in no time.

How to improve your government relations – no matter the size of your patient advocacy group


Anne DeSeta DarConte serves as Senior Director of HillStaffer, an innovative government relations firm. Ms. DarConte has more than 30 years of federal, state, and local government relations experience and advises clients on strategic advocacy initiatives including messaging, grassroots and grass tops advocacy, Hill Days, advocacy training, and community outreach. Ms. DarConte’s successful programs have been recommended as models of best practices, and she is often called upon to speak at industry conferences and at universities.


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