The Ten Do’s and Don’ts of Successful Legislative Advocacy
By Anne Roberts, Nonprofit Consultant
It can be truly rewarding to partner with your state policymakers to develop solid recommendations to benefit your clients and your community. It can also feel a bit intimidating if you’ve never done it before. In preparation for our approaching legislative sessions, I’ve compiled the following list of suggestions to help get you started and increase your chances for success.
- BE INFORMED – Know your issue. Utilize the tremendous research available to you to craft data-driven solutions to the issues you’ve identified. Have a basic understanding of your state’s legislative process and calendar. There is a wealth of information on legislative websites.
- BE INTERESTED - Know your legislator. Familiarize yourself with their specialized interests and which committees they serve on. Meet their staff; stop in; maintain frequent and friendly contact. (Example: Ask to be placed on the mailing list for constituent newsletters)
- BE HONEST – Be straightforward in presenting your view. Give both sides of the issue and do not imply facts or authority you do not possess. If a legislator asks a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t be tempted to “fake” it. Tell them you’ll find the answer and get back to them.
- BE IMAGINATIVE – Don’t limit yourself and your communication only to legislators. Send letters to the editor or your local newspaper; garner public support through speaking engagements with civic clubs, faith groups, etc.
- BE COOPERATIVE – Coordinate your legislative activities with other groups or organizations that share your interest in a given issue. There is strength in numbers!
- BE INFORMATIVE – Give your legislator a fact sheet about your issue and how it affects your clients, your community, and your industry. If the legislator wants more, they’ll ask for it. So be prepared with additional information, such as background studies, position papers, and similar research specific to your state.
- BE PROFESSIONAL – Never threaten your legislator if they disagree with you. By the same token, never hint at rewards for support. Never get angry and never try to get “even.”
- BE TRANSPARENT – Practice what you preach. Your words are worthless if your acts contradict them.
- BE ORIGINAL – Avoid standardization. Do not use form letters provided by your associates. Send original letters and emails in your own words. Note: treat emails like letters. Use your home address and let them know you are a constituent.
- BE APPRECIATIVE – Remember to thank your legislator. After an issue is resolved, send a note of appreciation to acknowledge their time and effort on your behalf. Do this regardless of the extent of such effort. Give the legislator the benefit of the doubt.
I could add one more: don’t get discouraged if your first attempt doesn’t cross the finish line. Sometimes politics gets in the way of even the best of ideas! It can take multiple sessions to accomplish your goals (remember the 60-year battle against Big Tobacco?) Even if you don’t succeed, you have garnered invaluable experience, developed new skills, and built relationships that will carry the momentum forward!
Advocating for state level policy change leverages your expertise to benefit folks beyond your own service area. Partnering with other like-minded organizations ensures a deep and robust cadre of advocates to support your cause. And remember these wise words from Anthropologist Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”