I am sure that my buddy encountered many “concerned” Hill staffers who patiently listened to his articulate and impassioned opposition to the proposed law. As the legislation enters the next drafting stage, some will probably remember him and a few may even consider his point of view. But for the most part, members of Congress and regulators prefer to listen to the views of trade associations that represent the collective opinion of large memberships. In this way, they can hear the opinions of many through as few sources as possible.
I know this to be true in the case of the U.S. Airforwarders Association. When collecting feedback on a proposed rule or new piece of legislation, legislators and regulators often come to us to get quick feedback on a policy matter or regulatory change, because they know what we say will be reflective of a vast number of airfreight stakeholders. This is why associations often keep their finger on the pulse of member sentiment by sending out a large number of surveys – I know I am guilty of this.
There are more than 7,800 associations, professional societies and labor unions in the U.S., and several of them specialize in air cargo. Most associations are national in focus, but some also consist of local and state chapters. Associations help businesses succeed by providing networking and educational opportunities. It has been said that almost 85 percent of all business failures occur in firms that are not members of their trade group. These are some of the benefits of belonging to one:
- Education: The air cargo industry has a number of trade associations, with each focused on specific aspects of the industry. Each provides educational and professional development materials through courses, articles, trade publications and relevant news to help members improve their businesses.
- Advocacy: Most forwarders who run businesses don’t have the time or the resources to advocate for or against legislation on their own. Associations provide this representation by determining, through its own governance processes and research capabilities, the industry’s commonly held views on policy-related issues and then promoting that position on behalf of its members. For example, the air cargo business benefited by associations advocating for a program that allowed forwarders, shippers and airlines instead of the Transport Security Administration to perform screening. This successful program continues as an effective way to accomplish an important mandate designed to keep passenger flights safe.
- Expertise: Access to shared knowledge is one of the most valuable benefits of being part of a trade association since someone, somewhere in the air cargo industry, has already experienced and solved a problem you may have. Workshops, networking events, newsletters and blogs provide opportunities for members to spot emerging trends that benefit the bottom line.
- New business: Being part of an air cargo-related association not only improves your reputation, but could also provide a source of new customers. As an example, shippers looking for forwarders might contact the industry trade association for the names of members who, because of their association membership, are viewed as reputable and knowledgeable about freight transportation.
- Lasting relationships: Perhaps the greatest advantage of being part of a trade association lies in the networking opportunities and the relationships that members cultivate over time. In our industry, forwarders meet trucking companies and international agents who attend association-sponsored events. These relationships not only improve service through increased competition, but also help provide the best rates for their customers. Members gain knowledge and service improves as the association endorses higher-quality standards through process improvement.
As with forwarders, trade associations come in all shapes and sizes, each fulfilling a vital member niche. For example, large groups such as The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) and the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) perform an important service grappling with global issues. Given the complexity of the world however, it is impossible for them to engage in every local matter. This is where specific country or regional associations shine, as they understand their local market and can get into the weeds on important local issues.
Citizens acting alone can still have an effect in Washington without belonging to an association since lawmakers generally understand the value in preserving and defending the single voice. There may even be a connection between campaign money contributed and such influence. But more often in our democracy, it is the collective voice that speaks the loudest, and for small- and medium-sized business, it is trade associations that most often serve as their best opportunity to make their voices heard.