ORLANDO, Fla.—Elected officials, especially in the current highly polarized environment, want accurate, trustworthy information about the communities they serve. Electric co-ops, by their very nature, can be that source.

That’s the message NRECA CEO Jim Matheson and Chuck Soderberg, executive vice president of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives—both former elected officials—brought to a breakout session at the NRECA Annual Meeting.

“The most important part of our strength is our relationships back home. We stand on the foundation you create back in the community,” Matheson said, encouraging electric co-ops to boost their advocacy efforts. “We are the trustworthy, accurate source of information.”

Matheson underscored how the co-op structure provides “a unique position to be effective in terms of relationships we have with elected officials and our members that is grounded in the communities we serve.”

“Our local, community-based focus allows us to cut through the polarization, which gets red hot in Washington sometimes,” he said.

The Iowa Rural Power grassroots advocacy program, launched in 2011, is a case in point. Co-op volunteers in green T-shirts are now recognized by presidential candidates at meet-and-greets and rallies in the state that holds the first national caucus.

“We get to tell our story and get involved in meaningful ways,” said Soderberg.

The Iowa Rural Power program has built relationships with politicians by arranging one-on-one engagement with candidates. Soderberg said co-ops should also coordinate to ensure co-op volunteers attend rallies and meetings.

Call-to-action activities designed to inform elected officials about key issues can be an important connection—and please remember to thank them after the passage of legislation that matters to co-ops, he said.

Positive social media messaging can be a fast and effective way for co-ops to keep elected officials updated on key issues and benefits that cooperatives provide to their communities. “Every day, we post something new,” said Soderberg. “We want to make sure we deliver our message and not somebody else.”

Noting that “the way the election goes, that’s the way policy goes,” he urged co-ops to remain involved after the votes are counted: Stay connected to elected officials, invite them into your community for town hall meetings, and continue to tell the co-op story.

“Building relationships is long-lasting,” Soderberg said. “A lot of dividends flow from it.”

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