NGA leverages its grass-roots strength to win a voice in Washington
From its very first convention in 1983, when the late President Ronald Reagan sent a videotaped address to convention attendees, the National Grocers Association has been able to assemble an impressive roster of high-powered political figures, media commentators and renowned national leaders of the day to address NGA members.
Besides Reagan, George H.W. Bush, then U.S. vice president, addressed the convention and conducted a tax reform forum with the NGA board in 1985. He returned as U.S. president in 1992 to speak at the NGA convention on the role small business plays in formulating economic policy and again as past president. His son, former President George W. Bush, makes his debut at NGA this week.
Among the memorable dignitaries who have graced NGA's stage are: the late Gerald Ford, Dan Quayle, Bill Bradley, Al Gore, J.C. Watts, Newt Gingrich, James Carville, Bob Dole, Tom Daschle, Colin Powell, the late Tony Snow, Fareed Zakaria, Pat Buchanan and Tom Brokaw.
By engaging these national leaders, Zaucha saw an opportunity to give NGA and its members a greater voice in Washington. Following Reagan's address, NGA launched its Grocers Care program that tied in with Reagan's National Care and Share Day to promote acts of charitable voluntarism and community involvement.
In 1988, George H.W. Bush wrote a letter to Zaucha and NGA, which stated, “I cannot agree more with the National Grocers Association about small business's critical role in shaping our nation's economic future. Active leadership with public organizations reflects the true commitment independent retail grocers and their wholesalers have to the communities they service.”
In 1997, NGA responded to Colin Powell's call to service and joined his America's Promise Campaign.
In 2002, the Businesses Strengthening America campaign was formed in response to President George W. Bush's call to service, which he made during his State of the Union Address.
Zaucha and NGA Chairman Steve Smith, president and CEO, K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va., attended a White House meeting in 2002 to support the volunteer efforts.
More recently, Grocers Care has tied into the National Moment of Remembrance on Memorial Day in honor of America's fallen soldiers. NGA members take time to pay tribute to those who have paid the ultimate price in serving their country. Zaucha says everything comes to a halt in NGA members' grocery stores at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day in remembrance. NGA has distributed promotional kits to remind shoppers of the importance of Memorial Day.
“This demonstrates how government and the private sector can and should work together on a voluntary basis as opposed to mandates and regulations,” said Zaucha. “It is not just a public relations project but it is intended to reinforce a message of how committed we are as an industry; how our members are committed to their communities; and how we can best get things done policy-wise if we work in collaboration with one another as opposed to in conflict.”
NGA maintains a modest political action fund compared to Corporate 100. The Center for Responsive Politics lists funding for NGA's lobbying efforts last year at $315,000. But it is the grass-roots nature of independent retailers that adds a tremendous amount of weight to NGA's political agenda in Washington.
“Our grass-roots capability is second to none,” said Zaucha. “Our ability to utilize community involvement, voluntarism, grocers caring about their neighbors, employees, associates, customers and tying that into administrations [governing in Washington]. That all has been invaluable to us to gain access to the inner circles of any administration,” he explained.
That also explains how NGA has been able to draw such an impressive roster of speakers to its convention.
Speakers who have made the biggest impression on Zaucha are:
- Ronald Reagan
“His history and legacy was everything he was. He'd come into a room and light it up. He had this powerful ability to communicate,” Zaucha said.
- George H.W. Bush
Of all the speakers, Zaucha said he felt the closest to No. 41, who addressed NGA on three separate occasions.
- Colin Powell
He was Zaucha's favorite speaker. “I appreciated his integrity and honesty about Iraq. He was not posturing himself but had a willingness to share things on a personal level.”
- Tom Brokaw
“His perspective on the world and media bias was enlightening for the whole audience.”