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It Happened in Our State

January 1, 2008

The one practice that saves Realtor® associations thousands of dollars, leads to legislative victories, enhances members’ image, and benefits local communities is something we all learned in kindergarten—sharing. And ideal role models for how to share are association government affairs directors (GADs) who have formed a tight and mutually beneficial community through exchanging resources and experiences.

GADs share both their successes and failures while swapping war stories about the similar challenges they face battling forces that seek to limit Realtors®’ business practices and homeowners’ rights, says Brian A. Bernardoni, director of government affairs for the Chicago Association of Realtors® and the National Association of -Realtors® GAD committee chair. Although sharing positive experiences can inspire success in -others, sharing negative experiences can be just as valuable, says Bernardoni, saving other GADs the time and expense of duplicating mistakes.

Facilitating the sharing is the NAR GAD Institute, where for more than twenty years, GADs have been meeting to swap stories and ideas as well as learn from industry experts and other outside speakers.
Kipp Cooper, GAD for the Greater Las -Vegas Association of Realtors®, praises the annual meeting for the opportunity to exchange products, -flyers, white papers, and issue-oriented campaign materials with GADs from across the country. Cooper reports that sharing these resources and ideas among the GAD community “allows us to boost our professional capabilities and enables us to have a clear picture before we implement a plan.”

When not engaged in face-to-face networking, the far-flung GADs keep in touch through a -members-only online community called NARGAD, which is hosted on RealTown.com. (See sidebar for more information.)

Healthy Sharing
As an example of the power of sharing, the GAD network recently was instrumental in securing affordable health insurance for Nevada Realtors®. When Jenny Welsh, the Nevada Association of -Realtors®’ GAD, began investigating solutions to the prohibitive cost of health insurance for her association’s independent-contractor members, she was alerted to the Oregon Association of -Realtors®’ successful legislative victory on the same issue. The Oregon group effectively lobbied for the authority to pool members as a statewide association to obtain group health insurance benefits.

Welsh contacted the Oregon association’s GAD, who provided not only the necessary bill language, but also offered advice on how to find legislative -allies—and how to ward off potential opposition. By knowing in advance that the health insurance industry might object to their legislation, Welsh and her associates were able to approach the insurance lobby and work out mutually acceptable details, such as the method of determining the risk pool. Nevada further benefited from Oregon’s trailblazing efforts by using the same third-party plan administrator.

CopyCatting Encouraged
Cooper reports that sharing successful strategies poses no ego problem for GADs, since the group adheres to the saying: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Cooper readily shares his knowledge on such hot topics as downpayment assistance for entry-level teachers and model open-house sign ordinances. He has also taken Las Vegas’ highly successful anti-graffiti program on the road to share with California GADs.

But Cooper freely admits he reaps as much as he sows. He has benefited from Chicago’s pilot program that partners with county recorders’ and assessors’ offices to share data to enhance MLS information. He has also learned much from Bryan Wahl, GAD for the Washington state -Realtors®, especially on issues related to quality of life and growth control.

Building Proactive Strategies
One of the foremost advantages of tapping into the GAD community’s shared knowledge base is the opportunity it gives associations to shift perspectives from reactive to proactive. As Cooper explains, a growth issue in Washington required the state association to react. But by sharing the fruits of its efforts on relation-building strategies and key principles for smart growth, Washington helped the Las Vegas association develop a proactive stance on quality-of-life -issues.

“It would have taken us a great deal of additional effort and financial investment if we had to initiate the whole [quality-of-life] concept,” -Cooper says. “We saved tens of thousands of dollars due to [Washington’s] leadership.”

Wahl stresses the significance of the proactive perspective, stating, “When we’re reacting, we’re losing. One of my biggest frustrations with Realtors®, and with the business community in general, is that they are typically reactive. They don’t think of government as a solution. We need to realize that elected officials want solutions to fix problems. We can offer them the solutions they need. By becoming team players in the elected officials’ eyes, Realtors® are now driving agendas.”

Following in Footsteps
Association education and communication directors use association GADs as role models for developing their own community-building networks. These groups also have an e-mail listserv where they pose questions and post resources and the communication directors have formed an annual conference, in addition to their networking sessions at NAR’s midyear and annual meetings, where they hear speakers on communication topics and swap resources. For more on joining any of these networking groups, go online to: REALTOR.org/realtorae.nsf/pages/ae_talk

NARGAD: A Close “Net” Community
The National Association of Realtors® hosts the online NARGAD community, which registered GADs may access via RealTown.com. John DiBiase, the communications director for NAR’s Government Affairs division, describes this high-tech framework as an “explosion of sharing facilitated by technology.”

NARGAD was created by GADs and is focused on helping state and local associations help themselves. Since GADs face similar issues nationwide, the online community reassures members that they are not alone and that they don’t have to start from scratch every time they face a challenge. Help is but a keystroke away.

A broad-based communication tool, NARGAD is a central repository of institutional knowledge that DiBiase says is “only limited by the user’s imagination.” Users post and respond to topics ranging from job openings to sign ordinances. Hot themes include transfer taxes, zoning ordinances, and transportation and infrastructure issues. “Soup to nuts” case studies of strategies employed by GADs around the country are also available.

Gerry Allen, NAR’s manager of community outreach in Government Affairs, states, “The strength of this communication tool is in providing quick and in-depth responses to issues.”

Although the community is moderated to filter out extraneous topics, responses to pertinent issues are left unvarnished and uncensored. Postings are generally succinct and relevant, since the service is used by busy professionals who are respectful of one another’s time.

Allen, who brought RealTown to the GAD community, provided a few hints to help GADs make the most of the NARGAD system:

Don’t reinvent the wheel; use your peers as resources.
Familiarize yourself with the knowledge available through NARGAD.
Use the system to ask questions to avoid starting at ground zero.
Broaden your network of associates.
Strengthen the system by contributing information.

There are currently over 500 registered users of the NARGAD RealTown community. This represents most, if not all of the state and local GADs, as well as some AEs who do not have GADs and want to be part of the discussion.