By Scott D. Grayson, CAE, KCSAE Board Member
Having worked for many years as an association lobbyist, with over 230,000 members in the U.S. and now as the CEO for the American Public Works Association (APWA), located in Kansas City, MO, I know it can be difficult to mobilize one’s members around advocacy. Even though our members care deeply about specific issues, that impact their profession and their daily lives, they are busy and often think, “Why would my letter or phone call to Congress make a difference.”
Some years ago ASAE reached out to its members, with an action alert, concerning an important matter of public policy that would have negatively impacted the association management profession. I was too busy lobbying on my own association’s issues and pushed the action alert aside. I thought to myself, I will get to that when I am less busy. I stopped and thought, what am I doing? I am trying to get our members to write letters to Congress and I won’t even take the time to write a letter for the association of which I am a member. How crazy is that!
Since then I do pay attention to action alerts and legislative issues that impact associations. Just about a year ago I joined the ASAE coalition to repeal a specific tax law impacting non-profit organizations. In 2017, I was alerted to a potential change in the tax code which passed and took effect on January 1, 2018. The change assessed approximately a 21% tax on non-profit employers that provided transportation benefits (including parking and transit passes) to employees. This tax was considered to be Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT)—a tax that non-profits pay for revenue that is not considered directly related to the mission of the organization. For APWA, this new tax meant an additional $10,000 expenditure per year that we had to pay to the IRS just for providing an employee benefit. The coalition actively lobbied Congress to repeal this law and sought the input and letter writing from associations around the U.S. Just before the end of 2019, ASAE alerted us to the fact that the coalition was successful in getting this law repealed. On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law, government funding legislation that included language that repealed this provision in the tax code. The new law not only repealed the provision but it appears to be retroactive in nature. We are told that once the IRS issues its guidelines, associations should receive refunds for the UBIT they paid to the IRS for transportation benefits.
Never underestimate your impact on changing public policy on your own or as part of a coalition. Members of Congress truly want to hear your stories and the impact of policy on your business, your profession and your daily lives. Generally, they do not want to create public policy in a vacuum. This is a big win for the association community. Had we stayed quiet nothing would have changed. Make sure to engage in advocacy it could save your association money.