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Your Ultimate Government Affairs Toolkit: Templates, Best Practices, Mistakes to Avoid, and More

by Lydia Stowe, FiscalNote

Your go-to resource hub for navigating the complexities of policy and advocacy, with a wealth of practical tips, best practices, and templates.

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In today's dynamic landscape, the importance of government affairs excellence cannot be overstated. As seasoned professionals exit the workforce and new generations step into leadership roles, understanding best practices, mistakes to avoid, and how to prove your value is crucial. Government affairs teams often face the challenge of being perceived as a cost center rather than a revenue driver. There is a lack of understanding among finance and the C-suite regarding the impact of government affairs on business goals, leading to a constant need to prove their worth.

This toolkit is your go-to destination for navigating the complexities of policy and advocacy, offering a wealth of practical tips, best practices, and templates.

Institutional Knowledge discussions in the workplace

Institutional Knowledge: What it Means and Why it's Important for Government Affairs

As many Baby Boomers retire and new generations enter the workforce and take leadership positions, retaining institutional knowledge is essential. This knowledge is a key asset to any organization and can be easy to lose without the right procedures and tools in place, costing a great deal of time and money.

Why is Institutional Knowledge Important to an Organization?

Over time, every organization develops workflows, techniques, and best practices to perform jobs effectively. For government affairs teams, institutional knowledge refers to maintaining those tools over time to develop solutions, save resources, and pass that knowledge and history to new employees and policymakers. This can mean having processes around finding and tracking relevant legislation and regulations, keeping track of a history of interactions with key stakeholders, and seeing a history of actions taken for a specific issue over time — and having the tools in place to do all this efficiently.

Institutional knowledge can save time and money, especially when onboarding new hires or when new legislators take office. Rather than reinventing the wheel, procedures that have worked (and information on what hasn’t worked) can be passed on to new employees so they can build upon the foundation already laid in an organization, or presented to new legislators with all the relevant historical information.

“Institutional knowledge is key, especially when it comes to state government affairs,” said Sandy Guenther, manager of state government affairs and advocacy engagement at the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS). With government affairs, issues are often very cyclical. Issues organizations dealt with a decade ago may resurface again. “Being able to know what occurred back in the day in these various states, tactics used, and what was said is very valuable,” Guenther said.

7 Ways to Retain Institutional Knowledge

Retaining institutional knowledge takes commitment from all employees, as well as clear, documented procedures and some organizational skills. With these strategies, institutional knowledge retention can ensure efficiency for years.

  1. Develop online knowledge libraries

  2. Have a central hub for key projects

  3. Create training videos

  4. Document processes when off-boarding employees

  5. Promote knowledge sharing from the start

  6. Stimulate a culture of collaboration

  7. Leverage workflow management tools to keep team members aligned

Global Government Affairs 101: A Guide to Managing Issues Around the World

Creating a government affairs strategy equipped to tackle these global challenges is crucial in today's world. Learn tips and best practices to get started from experts who've had first-hand experience.

Your Step-by-Step Guide to Preparing for Congressional Testimony + Templates

As part of the legislative process, state and federal legislatures use hearings to engage with the public — specifically, those distinctly affected by the proposed legislation or policies for which the hearings are being conducted. Hearing participants are also selected based on their expertise in a particular subject matter. For example, members may be suitable witnesses or participants in hearings on a particular issue affecting a constituency, state, district, or private business.

Senior executives, lobbyists, and grassroots advocacy groups will sometimes be invited to take part in an official hearing. These hearings typically occur when a committee is considering public comment on a bill they are reviewing from constituents and stakeholder groups. This is a normal part of the legislative process and allows those who will be most affected by the legislation to have their voice heard.

Preparing for Congressional Testimony

Preparing for a hearing takes time and coordination. It is both an honor and a commitment, and it can be challenging and frustrating at times. Nevertheless, preparing executives to participate or directly participating in hearings is an essential function of effective government relations and advocacy teams at both the state and federal levels.

5 Things to Do in a Hearing

  1. Tell them who you are. Provide your background, expertise, and years of involvement with your organization.

  2. Showcase your footprint. Share the number of businesses represented, number of employees, and boilerplate information on an association or company’s website.

  3. Tell them why are you concerned with the policy and your position on the issue. Make sure you formally identify your stance on the bill or issue.

  4. Tell them why they should care about your perspective. Reiterate the economic, social, and charitable impact on the community.

  5. Offer clear arguments and background information. Depending on the issue being considered you will develop talking points supported by data, research, and some personal anecdotes.

5 Things Not to Do in a Hearing

  1. Mention donations. Often in hearings, people will mention past donations they have made to campaigns. This is illegal and must not be brought up.

  2. Approach with a disrespectful tone. Avoid having a bad attitude during the hearing. It’s important to maintain your composure and treat every member with respect. While it’s okay to disagree with a member and to voice your opinion, you must do so with respect and with facts on your side.

  3. Go off-topic. If the hearing is on a specific issue, don’t go on a tangent about another hot-button current event or another policy topic that is not related to the purpose of the hearing.

  4. Let your confidence be shaken. Don’t get frazzled when speaking to policymakers. Presenting at a hearing can be intimidating, especially during a live in-person session, but remember you are simply telling your story and supporting it with facts.

  5. Provide inaccurate information. There’s no shame in admitting you don’t know the answer to a question. Don’t make up information or provide inaccurate answers. If you would like to defer a question, ask to get back to them with the information and then consult your professional resources. Be prepared for complicated questions that are used by politicians who seek to pass legislation that harms your issue area, as this could be their attempt to produce contradictions.

Congressional Testimony Template

This template is the blueprint you need to succinctly communicate and remember your key points during your congressional testimony. Download this template for one page of notes that will guide you in your presentation before the committee.

Template: How to Prepare for Congressional Testimony

A single-page, customizable template to guide you during your congressional testimony.

5 Ways to Build and Manage Strong Stakeholder Relationships

One of the most important and challenging jobs of a government affairs professional is to engage and communicate with stakeholders effectively. Building or updating your stakeholder management strategy is the perfect way to make sure you’re ready for a busy year. Creating a coherent game plan to manage the people and data that can help move your issues forward can ensure an organized, successful strategy for the rest of the year and well into the future.

1. Know Which Issues Are Important to Stakeholders

Perhaps the most important way to connect with stakeholders is to stay on top of the issues that matter most to them. This isn’t necessarily a constant — issues can change rapidly, so it’s vital to have a system to organize information and stay up-to-date on stakeholder issues.

2. Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions as you establish contacts and learn what your stakeholders care about. Your stakeholders are subject matter experts, so let them guide you as you discover what matters to them.

3. Leverage Non-Legislative Stakeholders, Too

Engaging non-legislative stakeholders and having diverse relationships is crucial. Having “legislative-adjacent” stakeholders is key for Jackie Beckwith, manager of advocacy and government relations at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, when it comes to “socializing our ideas, getting them understood, and creating an environment to where our chapter advocates or our folks on the ground can go in without having to do all of the work from the bottom up.”

4. Divide And Conquer Stakeholder Relations

A company may have multiple stakeholders with varying needs and interests, which can make it a challenge to effectively communicate with all of them on all the policy issues that matter.

Megan Villarreal, manager of policy and public affairs at Nestle, has had success dividing up the team so each person staffs one portion of the business and has their own set of issues to manage. “We really divide across those issue lines rather than some more traditional government affairs teams which focus on federal affairs and state affairs very separately,” she says.

5. Get Creative With Relationship-Building

Relationships can span states, and even the world, and meetings don’t just take place in person. Virtual meetings, asynchronous work schedules, and text messages are the norm for stakeholder relationships. To cut through the noise, Beckwith used old-fashioned snail mail to add a personal touch to her connections. “I love sending Christmas cards and I love getting Christmas cards,” she said. “And so, I figured, why not expand that practice to when a member company or a chapter advocate really goes out on a limb and helps me out?”

While the so-called “Zoom fatigue” is real, don’t underestimate the importance of these meetings. Even though many moved to a virtual format, “those conversations are still happening and they’re still meaningful,” says Chris Mleczko, political engagement manager at Sentry.

Template: Stakeholder Engagement Matrix to Manage Your Organization’s Relationships at a Glance

FiscalNote’s stakeholder engagement matrix is the blueprint you need to get started managing those very important relationships, and succinctly communicate and present your interactions with stakeholders. Handy drop-down menus allow you to clearly label stakeholders so you can then share it with the rest of your team to keep everyone on the same page. This entirely customizable template can help you track and see at a glance:

  • Your current relationship status with a stakeholder

  • Desired future relationship status with a stakeholder

  • How critical a stakeholder is to achieving your organization’s goals

  • Who is managing this relationship, and any notes they have

Download the template

Stakeholder Engagement: How to Measure & Report on Relationships in Government Affairs

Stakeholder Engagement: How to Measure & Report on Relationships in Government Affairs

Recession-Proof Playbook: Your Guide to Protecting Your Job & Government Affairs Team Amid Economic Uncertainty

If government affairs teams have learned anything over the last few years, it’s that being prepared for a crisis is essential — whether it’s a pandemic, global conflict, or economic downturn, being adaptable and flexible is a must. As organizations face economic uncertainty, what can you do to recession-proof your job and your team?

Proving your ROI and reporting on the value of your work can protect you and your team while consolidating resources, reducing spending, and streamlining workflows are important strategies in preparing for a possible recession.

Here are five steps you can start taking today to recession-proof your job, government affairs team, and your organization as a whole.

Step 1: Prove Your ROI

To demonstrate value and show your team isn’t just a “cost center,” government affairs teams must leverage technology to provide hard metrics in professional and visually appealing reports that resonate with decision-makers. They can showcase their impact on organizational goals, align their campaigns with company objectives, and measure the material effects of their tasks, even if not directly tied to revenue.

Showing the value of your team, and your role, is critical when bracing for an economic downturn and making sure your team can withstand a recession. It’s important to have a way to visualize and report on your successes and share them with key stakeholders so that if difficult staffing decisions have to be made, your value and the ROI you provide your organization will be fresh in their minds.

Outline key legislative and regulatory issues you’re monitoring to demonstrate how you’re saving your organization time and money. With an influx of information to keep track of, missing a bill can be extremely costly.

Legislative tracking and policy monitoring software helps you cut through the noise and keep track of the policy that matters most to your organization, allowing you to understand, measure, and analyze the monetary value of your actions, and even show the potential costs had you not succeded.

Step 2: Consolidate Resources & Reduce Spending

If you don’t consolidate resources and find ways to cut spending, your finance team will almost certainly do so — but you might not like their decisions. Find ways to trim the fat, whether it’s tools you don’t often use, overpriced solutions, or using multiple resources when you could consolidate them into one.

One of the first places to start? Bundling and consolidating your policy monitoring and advocacy software. For government and public affairs professionals, combining subscriptions can unify various systems and data sets, help to align dispersed teams under one platform, and reduce vendor costs.

Step 3: Streamline Workflows

Recession-proofing is all about being as efficient and streamlined as possible, so now is a great opportunity to tighten up your workflows. One way to build holistic reports is to visualize the policy and market trends that impact your organization, map stakeholders, and track engagements all in one report.

Another tactic is creating an online workspace and repository for your team to access so everything is in one place and the whole team is aligned. Take and share notes after meeting with stakeholders and document decisions and processes in a central place to give everyone on your team visibility.

Step 4: Mitigate Risk

More than ever, during an economic downturn it’s vital to protect your organization from potential risks and threats that can damage the bottom line. Tracking key regulations and legislation can be a challenge for any company, so it’s important to arm yourself with solutions that meet your needs, power your decisions, and evolve with your priorities.

The right tools allow you to track the risks that matter to your organization and can provide timely personalized market intelligence. In addition to intelligence, you need actionable insights that will recession-proof your organization and bring into focus the potential risks on the horizon so you can take action.

Step 5: Update Objectives & Goals

During times of uncertainty and change, your organization and team’s objectives might change. It’s important to be flexible and adaptable when new opportunities arise and unknown challenges loom. Analyze your team’s current goals and consider whether they need to be restructured to align with changes the recession may bring.

Reevaluating your government affairs team’s objectives and goals can be a valuable time of reflection to pause and ensure you are effectively managing budget, team members, and growth strategies and to ensure your priorities align with the larger organization’s.

Success Strategies for Government Affairs Leaders

Leaders in the government and regulatory affairs space are facing more challenges as they try to navigate public policy, regulation, and political obstacles for their organizations at the local, state, federal, and global levels. In the past, much of the focus was on Congress but with federal lawmakers at loggerheads, government affairs leaders need to be more aware of federal regulations and state laws, as well as policy discussions beyond U.S. borders.

In this highly complex and ever-changing landscape, it can be challenging to effectively manage a team, organize workflow, and report on your work to show ROI. Read on for best practices to meet these challenges and excel in your leadership role.

Best Practices for Government Affairs Leaders

As a government affairs leader, you must adjust your strategies due to changes in federal regulatory activity, congressional gridlock, and increased state legislative action. Here are some best practices to keep in mind.

Focus on Regulatory Activity

With less focus on Congress, VPs of government affairs need to keep a closer eye on regulatory activity and work more closely with colleagues in departments that align closely with government affairs, such as legal and compliance.

With more focus on regulatory action, government affairs leaders need to make sure their team is immersed in topics that interest their organization and its stakeholders and to become experts in these areas, says Nancy Conneely, managing director of policy for AccessLex. Your team should be able to interpret proposed or new regulations correctly to understand their impact.

But Don’t Forget About Congress

Conneely warns that while vice presidents of government affairs teams may focus primarily on agency regulations, their team can’t forget about the Hill and Congress. “Just because things seem slow going doesn’t mean a perfect storm won’t come together and something you care about won’t get wrapped up in that,” she says.

Navigate State & Local Laws

Congressional gridlock also means more policies are being made at the local level, forcing companies to deal with a patchwork of state laws. As a result, companies need to figure out how each state law impacts its business, how to respond to it, who their allies are, and who they need to be engaged with on these specific issues. It also means there is not just one centralized conversation in Washington, D.C., about technology policy, but a conversation that takes place in many places.

That requires government affairs VPs to do more policy analysis and landscape assessment to determine the local political viewpoint in a specific jurisdiction and the policies that are bubbling up at the local level. Understanding how federal, state, and local political dynamics overlap elevates your team and helps VPs stand out.

Take an Integrated Approach

Leaders of government affairs teams also need to take a more integrated approach to their work if they’re going to succeed. Public and government affairs overlap with internal communications, external affairs, legal, and compliance, requiring companies to pull down the silos that naturally exist.

“Government can change the expectation and rules that organizations are required to operate in,” says Donald F. Kettl, public management scholar at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. There is a growing risk that corporations could find the environment changing due to changes in federal and state laws, and regulations, he says.

On-Demand: Small Team, Big Impact: How to Overcome Challenges and Prove ROI

Advocacy and government affairs professionals working on small teams share best practices to consolidate resources, expand your coverage, and cultivate strategic relationships to prove the value of your work.

Working professionals in an office

5 Helpful Resources Every Government Affairs Professional Should Have Bookmarked

These resources are handy go-to guides for government affairs professionals to help with the tasks you accomplish every day.

  1. Top 10 Tips for Briefing like a Pro. Bruce Mehlman, ranked one of D.C.'s top lobbyists by Washingtonian Magazine, shares his top ten tips for briefing & reporting like a public policy pro.

  2. The 2024 State Legislative Sessions Calendar
    Keep track of key dates in the 2024 state legislative sessions calendar across all 50 states & D.C. with this free and handy download.

  3. State Sessions Toolkit: The Ultimate Guide to 2024 State Legislative Sessions
    This toolkit is your compass through the 2024 state legislative sessions.

  4. 118th Congress Demographics: The People That Make Up Our Legislative Branch
    A deep dive into the demographics of the members of Congress in 2023 and 2024.

  5. How to Foster Great Relationships With Congressional Staffers
    Pet peeves from staffers you should avoid & practical tips to help strengthen relationships.

How FiscalNote Can Help Government Affairs Leaders

The increasing use of technology to manage workflow and collaborate with stakeholders is essential for your work in government affairs. If you’re a vice president of a government affairs or regulatory affairs team, FiscalNote provides a suite of tools that can help you mitigate risk, find opportunities, organize your team, and prove ROI. FiscalNote provides a strategic approach to pursuing the opportunities that arise from public policy.

From awareness to action, FiscalNote’s suite of solutions help you discover bills or regulations that affect your organization, manage key stakeholder networks, create strategic road maps, take action, and demonstrate your success and value through metrics and reporting.

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