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‘Community’ Is Key When Workforces Are Remote

‘Community’ Is Key When Workforces Are Remote

April 2023

Some public affairs professionals give an entirely new meaning to “working remotely.”

Take Alyssa Niemiec, director of NABPAC, the National Association of Broadcasters’ political action committee (not to be confused with the other NABPAC — the National Association of Business Political Action Committees). The association is headquartered in Washington, D.C., but last year Niemiec relocated to New York City to pursue her master’s degree at Columbia University. Both she and her colleague Jenn Flemming, VP, NABPAC and advocacy initiatives, are full-time remote employees and, by all evidence, they are remarkably productive.

NABPAC has raised more than $1 million a year for the past decade, even during the most challenging years of the pandemic. “We experienced a slight drop in contributions and participation, but still held steady,” Niemiec says. In the first quarter of 2023, contributions topped $550,000, putting the PAC on a pace to significantly exceed its usual revenue — this at a time when employees are working remotely.

“Dealing with a remote workforce has reminded all of us of old truths — the importance of strong communications — and also brought new insights,” says Kristin Brackemyre, the Council’s senior director, public affairs practice, who hosted the Council’s April 4 webinar, “PAC Fundraising Among Remote Workforces,” at which Niemiec spoke. “It also reminded PAC managers of the need to learn as much as they can about what is necessary for any of their programs to succeed in this new and challenging environment.”

At Columbia, Niemiec is studying social-organizational psychology, a subject with immediate application to her work. “A key learning from research is that leadership buy-in, support and action are crucial for efforts like PAC fundraising to succeed,” she says. “Specifically, we are grateful for our partnerships with our board, trustees, state association executives, our broadcast leadership training leaders, and company solicitation executives. It is through these partnerships and peer-to-peer systems that we can ensure a successful year for our PAC.”

But it is also crucial to instill a strong sense of community to the organization’s eligibles. Among other efforts in that direction, NABPAC has launched a new website. “We want it to be more than a donation page,” Niemiec says. “We want it to be a portal, where PAC members can of course donate, but can also log on and see various avenues for continued involvement beyond their donation. For example, we have information on hosting fundraisers for and with NABPAC, donation challenge signups that display current standings using real-time data, advocacy updates and information, easy RSVP options for our upcoming events and more.”

But she says redoing the website simply reflects a different — and more effective — way to both view and present the PAC. “We like to think of ourselves as a political action community rather than committee,” she explains. “We like to use a lot of imagery in our promotional outreach — images of members so someone who is not a member can look at it and think, ‘I know that person!’”

‘I Want to Be Part of That!’

The images typically show members in lighthearted moments. “We mean business, but we also have fun and want our eligibles to see this as a community and think, ‘I really want to be part of that.’” But none of this is to suggest an indifference on the PAC leadership team to the realities of Washington politics and how it affects the professional lives of donors. The pictures and the festive events at which they are taken is a means to an end, which is growing the PAC membership and its revenues.

‘Longing for Community’

We were all reminded of the importance of networking — or community — during the pandemic when we were confined to our home offices. Working in sweats had its charms, but the need to be with co-workers never went away, and the appetite for companionship and face-to-face collaboration only grew. But we also learned during this period of the need to be flexible and to accommodate others as they set their own schedules, managing the all-important work/life balance. “The longing for community, if anything, increased in intensity because of the pandemic,” Brackemyre says.

For Jenny Mesirow and her colleagues administering the Farm Credit Council PAC, a remote work force and the need to be flexible are givens. The Farm Credit Council is a network of lending institutions — co-ops, technically — located in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. It serves farmers, ranchers and others who work in agriculture, a business that is by nature dependent on the seasons. These, of course, vary widely by geography.

‘Highly Decentralized’

“We solicit officers and employees of our lending institutions and their boards of directors, which are made up mainly of farmers and ranchers, representing borrowers,” says Mesirow, who also spoke at the April webinar. “As a decentralized national association, most of the work happens at the local level. We’re truly a grassroots PAC. And it varies across the country. We have some that serve five or six counties and others that service four or five states.”

In making its appeals, the PAC must consider the growing seasons where the lenders are located. “We take into account their busiest times of the year around the country. We don’t want to bother them during planting or harvest time,” Mesirow says. “What works for farmers in the Pacific Northwest obviously won’t work for farmers in Puerto Rico. The busiest times of year for farmers in South Dakota aren’t the busiest times for south Florida. We can’t expect these members to be thinking about politics and policy when they are trying to get their crops in.”

Mesirow and her team also have to be sensitive to natural disasters and weather events that rarely affect other PACs. “California has had years of drought followed by unexpectedly heavy rainfalls,” she says. “When our member institutions are helping their customers get through crises like that, we want them to focus on the needs of their customers. We’ll circle back to fundraising once everyone is safe and recovered from the event.”

Decisions Made at Local Level

That is why so many of the decisions are made at the local level. “Our members on the ground know their representatives well. That’s why we defer to their judgment,” Mesirow says. “The promotional materials the PAC uses are cobranded, and the results of this decentralized approach speak for themselves. During the 2022 cycle, the PAC raised just under $1.2 million from a little more than 2,000 contributors. In keeping with this keep-it-local approach, compliance training is offered for the boards and their officers in the different territories.

In a sense, the PAC has always had to work with a remote workforce. “This localized, even grassroots arrangement fits well with the nature of the agricultural community itself and the needs of farmers and ranchers,” Mesirow says. “Our member institutions each approach their customers according to their knowledge of the area and the people. That’s the same approach we have with our PAC, and it makes all of us more effective in achieving our goals.”

Here, as with NABPAC, it’s essential to build a strong community and respect the needs of members wherever they are. “My bottom-line advice for PAC managers dealing with remote work forces is to maintain those strong local contacts,” Mesirow says. “Interface regularly with those local leaders and make sure they have the resources they need.” Thinking of what you do as “building a community,” Niemiec adds, is also crucial.

Working in sweats had its charms, but the need to be with co-workers never went away, and the appetite for companionship and face-to-face collaboration only grew.

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