Social Issues, Activism, and Associations

Recent years have seen greater demand from consumers and employees for companies to speak out on societal issues. In the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021, 61% of respondents said they trusted companies more than the government (53%) or media (51%). A significant percentage of the same study’s respondents – 86% – expect CEOs to speak out on social issues.

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As businesses struggle with their positions on different issues and whether or not to take a public stance, association leaders must also evaluate the implications on their own associations.

A Harvard Business Review article suggests these three questions to consider when determining whether or not your organization should speak out:

  1. Does the issue align with your corporate mission and values?
  2. Can you meaningfully influence the issue?
  3. Will your constituents (employees, members, community) agree with speaking out?

Two associations that found an issue that fits their mission and could be affected by association and member action were the California Hotel & Lodging Association and the Colorado Nursery and Greenhouse Association – water conservation.

  • Hot, dry weather that has created ongoing drought conditions in California makes water conservation a natural topic for CHLA to advocate. Recent articles address the importance of water conservation as well as tips, tools, and resources for hotels to use when encouraging guests to reduce water usage.
  • CNGA’s article also provides specific technical information, as well as practical information, nursery owners can use to conserve water, including the need to keep the issue front-and-center with employees in all staff meetings.

Another author took a broad look at some other questions that association leaders should ask themselves when considering the implications of the growing trend of corporate activism:

  1. How will this trend impact your association’s ability to have influence?
  2. Will a schism exist (or widen) among segments of your membership as this trend gains strength? How might you mitigate or reconcile that?
  3. How might your engagement in social issues differ or be similar to your engagement in policy and regulatory activities?
  4. What approach will your association take concerning fundraising and disclosure?

Understanding members’ needs and expectations, getting input and guidance from volunteer leaders and keeping the overall mission of the organization in mind are key components of an association leader’s ability to navigate this increasing trend.