“When things are tough — and it’s not just unique to our group
— members look at the value they are getting out of an association... We can’t do everything, but the direction the board set
was clear. We needed to be more active in advocacy.”
document. Distribute it to the media, legislators and anyone who needs to know what your group stands for.
Other components of the OneVoice program include
biweekly updates to members and a Legislative Action Center
available on the group’s website that connects members with
the media in their area, provides guidance for communicating with lawmakers via phone or letter, and advises “action
alerts” when an issue is at a critical juncture.
WDMA’s Washington, D.C., office, also fortified by SmithBucklin’s resources, opened in 2009, just 2. 2 miles from the
U.S. Capitol. Part of formulating WDMA’s emergence in advocacy was knowing where its members were — not just the
Midwest concentration of member companies’ headquarters,
but also their manufacturing plants and other facilities.
“When you’re talking to a member of Congress and want
them to introduce something, they’ll be far more likely to be
interested if you have a presence in their district,” O’Brien
With policy in hand and concentrations of constituents
mapped out, WDMA members took to the halls of Congress
during WDMA’s first Legislative Conference in early 2010.
Leaders from 50 WDMA member companies spent a day
What’s a U-Factor?
The U-factor measures how well a product prevents heat
from escaping: The lower the rate, the lower the amount
of heat loss. A U-factor rating generally falls between
0.20 and 1. 20 and is included in the energy performance rating (label) offered by the National Fenestration
learning about cultivating relationships with lawmakers and
then set out to find them and communicate their issues.
Rarely was it a straight shot.
“Many of our members hadn’t been to Washington, D.C.,
like this,” says WDMA Legislative Affairs Director Colleen
Levine, who helped prep members with tips and talking
points. “They met with [legislative] staffers, many of whom
are very young and dealing with a dozen items at a time. You
learn that something monumental to you is but one tiny piece
Steve Sisson, vice president and general manager of
Karona, an architectural door manufacturer employing
approximately 100 people, was among those whose eyes were
“It was helpful to see the bigger picture of what our gov-
ernment is working on and learn how to carve what you need
into the bigger issues,” says Sisson, who grew up shadowing
his dad, the founder of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Karona.
“We were told not to talk down to ‘the kids’ and they were
right. Those young staffers are very important gatekeepers.”
Miels was scheduled to meet with a staffer for U.S. Rep.
Tom Petri (R-Wis.) when the 17-term congressman emerged
from his office, invited Miels in and conversed for 45 min-
utes. Two weeks later, Petri toured the Oshkosh Doors plant
back home. Miels calls the interaction “fantastic” and says a
bridge of trust was created, thanks to the legislative confer-
“[Petri] said it had been 20 years since he’d been in
a door plant,” Miels says. “I’ve talked to him since about
health care policy and other things.
“It was an important step for WDMA to show me and my
company that us being part of the association and the process
is important. There are a number of other associations we’ve