We asked current NPC members John Ruoff, from South Carolina; Barbara Sabol, from Kansas; and Lynn Young, from Idaho, to share what they would like prospective applicants to know about serving on the NPC. Ruoff is an expert on state tax, budget and fiscal policy, health care, and voting rights and redistricting. Sabol is a retired nurse who held leadership positions in corporate, nonprofit and government sectors. Young is a retired school district analyst and educator, and public utilities manager and advocate.
The Role Of The NPC
AARP's all-volunteer NPC and Board of Directors lead AARP’s policy development. The NPC is made up of 25 volunteer leaders from around the country. Each has a proven record of public policy experience and interest. The NPC is charged with leading efforts to carefully study policy analysis and research, consider and integrate member and public opinion, and make policy recommendations to AARP's Board of Directors.
“It is important for prospective applicants to understand that the NPC does not drive the advocacy agenda of AARP, but we do play a very, very large role in the policy agenda, which then frames AARP’s advocacy.” —John Ruoff
The Role Of NPC Committees
NPC members serve on one of three committees: Consumer and Livable Communities; Health and Long-Term Services and Supports; Economic, Employment and Low-Income Issues. Each committee must dig deep into a pressing policy issue and come up with policy recommendations to the entire NPC at large. AARP’s Board of Directors reviews the NPC’s recommendations and approves the public policies that guide AARP volunteers and staff as they advocate for change over the next two years.
“A large part of your role as an NPC volunteer is being as familiar as possible with the issues of your committee, giving input based not only on your experiences, but also materials AARP provides and what you learn from other sources, and using all of that together to provide staff and the other members of the NPC enough information so they can make policy recommendations to the AARP Board of Directors.” —Barbara Sabol
Most Important Traits Of An NPC Volunteer
Be willing to learn
“Being an NPC volunteer is intellectually stimulating. You have to go in prepared to learn from a diversity of opinions, whether it is from readings, policy papers or conversations with experts from around the country. Part of your contribution is just learning, because you’re not going to be able to be expert in everything, but you can learn about new things and make them applicable to what you do know about …You learn a lot about yourself as well as give a lot.” —Barbara Sabol
Be able to build consensus
“You have to be a consensus-builder. The NPC is composed of people from different parts of the country with different experiences. But as an NPC member, you have to, for a moment, put aside your point of view, listen to everyone’s input, and come up with policy language that encompasses as many needs as possible and works wherever it is applied.
“Once a policy recommendation is formulated by the NPC, it has been carefully vetted and reviewed both in committee and before the entire council. The decision of the group needs to be supported by every member of the group. You cannot be the person who says, ‘I didn’t want it that way.’ In my three years on the NPC, I cannot come up with one instance where someone disagreed so strongly when we finished the discussion that, at the end, we were not of one voice with regard to our decision.” —Lynn Young
Be open to new ideas
“I think one of the really nice things about the council is that there is significant diversity of experience. There is no single mold for an NPC member. People from different backgrounds and experiences help make the product better.” —John Ruoff
Contribute your time
In addition to meeting in person at least four times a year, NPC members must synthesize a substantial amount of written information and participate in webinars and conference calls throughout the year.
Be a good listener
On top of regular NPC and committee work, seven NPC members are charged with representing a region of the country and hearing from AARP volunteers and staff across that region to ensure that the National Policy Council understands the policy issues they are working on and their concerns and challenges. The goal: a two-way conversation by which AARP members, volunteers and staff can make their voice heard on emerging policy issues.
Most Enjoyable Aspects Of NPC Experience
A Collegial Atmosphere
“I think a really wonderful thing I have learned is what a collegial group this is. Even when individuals don’t agree on something, they’re not angry with each other about it. They feel listened to and attended to. I want Congress to watch us.” —Lynn Young
“I’ve spent a lot of time in meetings in my career, as you could imagine, but this has been for me one of the best experiences I’ve had in my whole career. In part because it is a great group of folks.” —John Ruoff
“It’s always nice later in life when you make new friends that become very good friends.” —Lynn Young
An Opportunity to Contribute to AARP’s Mission
“Being an NPC volunteer is an opportunity to contribute to AARP achieving its mission. As an NPC member, everything you consider from a policy perspective — the issues, opportunities, fiscal constraints — you consider with AARP’s mission to enhance quality of life for all in mind. It’s hard work, but it’s a great opportunity.” —Barbara Sabol
Personal and Professional Perspectives
“When I was a lobbyist, one of the things I used to love was dealing with lobbyists on the other side who had their marching orders to pass a bill or something, but they had no basis in policy for knowing what sort of deals they could cut or anything like that. It was really easy to pick their pockets because their job was to pass a bill, not to achieve specific policy goals. So the whole advocacy process that AARP engages in so well is driven by the policy goals the organization is trying to achieve, and the National Policy Committee plays a central role in defining those policy goals.” —John Ruoff
“I felt I had something to offer from both a professional and personal perspective. I was the Secretary of Aging in Kansas and had a long time commitment to the issues of aging. I also worked with advocates who were extremely passionate about improving the lives of older people, especially vulnerable older people.
“I was also a caregiver. Being a caregiver is a special opportunity in that it allows you to see policies as they impact an individual you care about — in my case, while serving on the NPC, it had been my husband, but in years previously, it was my aunt, my mother and my father. —Barbara Sabol
“I had been part of an advisory board before. I worked for a school district in which the school board created a community advisory group to support a superintendent search. At that time, I spoke to the school board about my concern with that process: It is really hard, with a community group that gets so invested in this selection process, to remember that they are advisory to the board and that the board is the final decider. And it must be that way. The board hires the superintendent. The community committee does not hire the superintendent. It was hard.
“That is similar to the role of the NPC to the AARP Board when we are recommending policy. The role of the NPC is to look at policy for the organization: We have existing policy that we review and we may revise; we may create new policy, but we don’t adopt policy. That is not our role. We recommend policy to the board and they can accept it, they can adopt it, they can reject it, they can send us back to do further study.
“Just as that community advisory committee was advisory to the board of trustees of the school district all those years ago, the NPC are policy advisors to the AARP Board of Directors. —Lynn Young