The Importance of Government Relations: The Green Budget Coalition
Ottawa, being the centre of the universe when it comes to the world of federal government relations, is abuzz with activity as stakeholders are preparing their engagement strategies and lobbying efforts leading up to the next federal election on October 19, 2015.
I recently attended a government relations lunch hosted by a large Public Relations firm in Ottawa (to remain undisclosed) where I was offered a suite of professional services (including apps!) to Build and Capitalize on your Engagement Equity, Move your Organization Up the Engagement Ladder, Deepen Your Stakeholders’ Connection through Storytelling. .. all this at an exorbitant price tag!
A lot of buzz words you might think, but the reality is the for-profit sector, such as large industry associations, are spending large sums to hire prestigious PR firms to develop government relations campaign on their behalf. We were told the post-election period will be a very crowded and competitive environment in Ottawa.
Without such deep pockets, what is the nonprofit sector’s equivalent to such PR power houses? What is the value of government relations to the nonprofit sector on the long and strenuous road of making policy changes in, to say the least, what can be an unfavorable political climate in Ottawa?
For fourteen Canadian environmental organizations, an ongoing and effective government relations campaign has been led by the Green Budget Coalition (GBC) since 1999.
The Green Budget Coalition’s goal is for federal fiscal policies to be supportive of environmental sustainability in Canada. Every year, we present an analysis of the most pressing issues regarding environmental sustainability in Canada and make a consolidated annual set of recommendations to the federal government regarding strategic fiscal and budgetary opportunities. Our recommendations are the results of a year-long government relations campaign.
The GBC’s credibility as a reasonable and pragmatic voice for environmental progress makes it an effective resource for federal policy makers and advocacy tool for the environmental community.
Such a consensus-based coalition allows us to pool limited financial resources, especially since few funders recognize the importance of supporting a government engagement strategy. Funders can play a vital role in supporting this work. In the case of the Green Budget Coalition, we have been fortunate to count on the financial support of the Metcalf Foundation for our Budget 2015 campaign.
Finding funding for what may be perceived as unglamorous and tedious work with intangible results is challenging. We are often working behind the scenes or from ‘inside’ the government bureaucracy. In the case of the Green Budget Coalition, it is often the ‘undercover’ nature of our work (just to make it sound more glamourous…) that makes us effective. The Green Budget Coalition refrains from any partisan activities and ensures confidentiality for all its government meetings, thus gaining the trust of government officials.
The results for the environmental community are very tangible. Only through this ongoing engagement with government officials are we able to access data and information on department’s spending levels to make sense of an increasingly complex and less transparent federal budget process (hence the market for public relations firms). This ensures our recommendations are well researched and evidence-based. It also requires countless meetings − the Green Budget Coalition met with over 100 federal government officials in 2014-2015 alone − patience, perseverance, a good dose of optimism and financial resources.
Despite its low profile or lack of visibility, funders should recognize and support the government relations efforts of not-for-profit and charitable organizations. If we are not at the government table to influence policy, others with deeper pockets will be.
The Green Budget Coalition may never have the resources to hire the big guns to build its ‘engagement equity portfolio’, but it can count on the support of innovative foundations such as The Metcalf Foundation as well as the expertise, professionalism and dedication of its member organizations.
Looking ahead to 2016, the Green Budget Coalition will be ready to engage and play in the competitive government relations game to make environmental sustainability a priority in Ottawa!
Image from © Library of Parliament.