Effecting real change at the local level often means contacting state legislators and occasionally members of Congress to raise awareness about district needs and concerns.
Lobbying elected officials may seem intimidating, but keep in mind that you are also an elected official. When you understand the legislative ecosystem and how legislation is created, you can better communicate your needs to legislators and communities.
How to advocate for your district
Here are six quick tips that make advocating for your district a little easier.
Get to know your elected officials
One of the best times to talk to elected officials is before they are elected. Candidates for office are often more willing to talk about local issues. Once they are elected, make sure that you contact them and get to know them when the legislative body is not doing business.
Invite your legislator to events in your district so that when you call, they can put a face to the name. This also gives you more time to interact informally. And while you get to know your legislators, take time to also know their staff, as they are often the ones who deliver messages and set up meetings.
Always thank your elected officials
To start your meetings out on a good note, thank your elected officials for their service. If you know of a particular piece of legislation they shepherded or something else they have done that positively impacted your organization, thank them for that. If you do not, simply thank them for their time and service. When you thank the legislator, be sure to thank any staff members that you interact with as well. Sending a thank-you note after your meeting also gives you a chance to reiterate your point while practicing courtesy.
Find common ground
If you have a specific “ask,” get to that point because your legislator may not have much time to give you. Be prepared and get right to your question, then listen to the legislator. They are much more likely to speak to someone that will give and take than someone who cannot compromise and will not listen to their point of view.
For example, if you are both concerned about the use of federal funding, listen to what the legislator has to say in addition to sharing your viewpoint, then find the common ground between your views. Maybe the solution is using some funding for your project, and you support some funding for their project back in your district. And remember, always be civil.
If you have a specific “ask,” get to that point because your legislator may not have much time to give you. Be prepared and get right to your question, then listen to the legislator.
Tell your story
Rather than just sharing numbers and statistics, try to speak to impact. This will make your request more memorable. Tell the legislator about a program that will be cut if you don’t get funding — and make the consequences clear. Explain how many people this will impact and how it will impact them specifically.
Let them know why this is so important to you. Chances are the legislator has already been provided with statistics, but if you tell them the story of Maria and how difficult it will be to get her children to school unless you get the grant funds to build sidewalks, you invite that legislator into your community.
It’s always better to share a concrete problem than a generic ask for more funding. Include links to your board portal so that the official can see that item on your agenda and listen to the discussion or see the documents.
Use the time out of session
Advocacy is a year-round project. This is a time to familiarize yourself with the legislative process and what bills may be coming from a state or national level. We tend to focus on legislators during the legislative session. However, during this time it may be more difficult to get their time and attention. Setting up a meeting is easier out of session.
If you do get a meeting, leave your legislator with a letterhead page of your priority concerns and what you would like to see happen during the session. This is also the best time to invite them to functions and events in your district, so they can see the outcome of legislative action. Take them to the local café and introduce them to key community members. Help them develop a fondness for your community like you have.
When an important issue comes up, communicate
While all the tips shared here are important, knowing and tracking important legislative bills is key to advocacy. This is true whether you support a bill or are opposed to it. A legislator only knows what is important to you if you tell them. When you contact your legislator, identify your name and make clear that you are a constituent.
Spread the word and get others in your district, community or field to weigh in. If your board has a legislative liaison, he or she can post updates in your board portal to keep the board educated. Use the specific bill number and let them know where you stand on it.
Save time and maximize impact
Local legislators have their plates full, and we know you do too. To save time and maximize your impact, use a board management platform like Diligent Community, which can help you contact board members quickly when alerts are needed to act on a bill. There are also many good templates and guides available for contacting legislators that can be stored in your document library, making for faster, more seamless communication.
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