Boating United revamps website, grows advocacy through grassroots effort

In Boating Industry’s 2015 outlook survey, 79 percent of respondents listed government regulations as very or somewhat important to their business’s success in the coming year. Action will need to be taken by the industry to ensure legislators hear our concerns. And if we do not participate on our own behalf, who will?

This is where Boating United comes in. Boating United was launched in February 2014 as a grassroots advocacy platform for marine industry stakeholders, business owners, NMMA members and anyone who wants their voice heard on Capitol Hill in regards to recreational boating.

The NMMA saw a need within the boating industry for the initiative. Outside of the American Boating Congress each spring, the boating industry didn’t have an avenue for individuals to become advocates and communicate their perspectives and interests to Washington and policymakers.

“As we’ve seen in the last several years in [Washington] D.C. and around the country, other industries were filling that gap [of grassroots advocacy]. So by not filling the gap, we were almost being left behind and were in jeopardy of falling off the radar screens of policymakers,” said Michael Lewan, manager of Boating United. “If we’re not speaking out as the boating industry, other industries are speaking out against us. We want to be part of that conversation.”

Membership for the NMMA is currently at 25,000 and has seen significant growth over the last 12 months thanks to Boating United, according to Lewan.

Boating United is an online platform where members can directly participate in legislation. Through Boating United’s resources, members can send an email, make a call or tweet elected officials about the industry’s most pressing policy issues.

Recently, the online platform was redesigned to be more enhanced with a better user experience, while retaining similar functionality of the old website. New advocacy tactics were added as well, such as one where users can share a personal story or experience.

“Previously, a Boating United member would have to go through a bunch of steps just to take action; they’d fill out all their contact information, click next, type out the letter, click next, and so on. Now it is a more streamlined take action experience, where you can do everything virtually all at once,” said Lewan.

Additionally, Boating United’s website now has the capability to produce surveys, petitions and other tools. Once Congress begins writing new bills, sponsoring legislation and voting on legislation, Boating United will be able to track where legislators stand on the industry’s various issues through a public scorecard.

Campaigning at all levels

One of the most prominent issues right now is the Renewable Fuel Standard and the ethanol mandate, specifically the E-15 blend. Boating United launched a campaign in the spring to target this mandate. Their efforts resonated with the industry and generated over 2,000 letters to policymakers. Boating United is currently running an advocacy tactic asking for members to share personal experiences with ethanol damage on its website.

Boating United is hopeful the new Congress will provide opportunities to make progress on this issue, as they were disappointed the Environmental Protection Agency delayed the final rule on the Renewable Volume Obligations that tell refiners how much ethanol must be blended in the nation’s fuel supply. In preparation for the Miami International Boat Show, Boating United will also be embarking on another round of recruiting for the Congressional Boating Caucus, specifically geared towards appealing to freshman Congressional members.

Boating United’s efforts are not solely on a national scale. One of Boating United’s most successful campaigns in 2014 was a local initiative in Virginia. The campaign asked local members to contact Governor Terry McAuliffe’s office and encourage him to veto a bill introduced by the House that would ultimately weaken boater educational requirements in the state. Thanks to the overwhelming efforts, Governor McAuliffe vetoed the bill.

“Even at the smallest city council level, if it’s an issue that’s going to affect our industry we want to be on the forefront sharing our message and sharing it loudly,” said Lewan.

It takes a user an average of 2 to 3 minutes to complete an action through Boating United. An email comes into a user’s mailbox, prompting them to click a link to take action on a specific issue. An almost entirely pre-written letter is available to fill in personal information and submit. The Boating United system does the rest of the work to get the letter directly to the policymaker it needs to reach.

Organic growth drives Boating United and requires its members to actively engage, particularly through social media. Lewan says social media puts an individual perspective on the message and make it grow beyond NMMA’s limited resources in D.C.

“When a subscriber and advocate takes action and they shares that message on their personal Facebook page, Twitter page or even sending it via their own personal email, we really see a correlation that their friends and their family members are going to follow up and take action,” said Lewan.

Lewan notes that there are studies, interviews and anecdotal evidence that points to the success of consistent messaging from constituents, and that this vocalization makes a tangible impact on the actions of Congressional staff members and policymakers.

“[The legislator] checks in with their staff assistants and they ask ‘What are my constituents saying?’ And when that individual receives the same messages over and over again, they’re going to share that with the lawmaker and that’s going to make the lawmaker realize it’s an important issue back home,” said Lewan. “Failure to take the 2 to 3 minutes to submit a letter, phone call or tweet is really jeopardizing through inaction.”

Advocacy 365 days a year

As spring approaches, Boating United will be focusing on the American Boating Congress, which Lewan describes as the “Super Bowl” of grassroots advocacy for the boating industry. He calls it a unique opportunity to be educated on all of the issues that affect their business and go directly to Captiol Hill to share their story and perspective on how these issues are affecting their bottom line.

“It’s a crash course in Washington advocacy and the Washington political process,” said Lewan, “You can’t [get that message across] by phone, by email and you can’t even do that by attending a political rally or at the ballot box. The chance to come to D.C., meet with lawmakers and educate them on their issues is rare and it should be at the top of everyone’s list this year come May 2015.”

Registration for ABC opened to existing NMMA members on January 14 for anyone who is interested in attending.

However, this marquee event only occurs once a year. Boating United will be working with ABC on Boating United’s messaging and branding to act an integral part of those advocacy efforts 365 days a year.

“We really want to be a platform for the industry … to get our members involved in the political process,” said Lewan.

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