As an experienced advocate, I’m frequently asked for "how-to" tips on effective strategies for legislative and congressional advocacy by folks who are not at the Capitol every day. Since effective advocacy is a 12-month job, the following fits into the category of a year-round homework assignment. I trust you understand the value of speaking up on public policy matters which concern and interest you. Responsible advocacy is the heartbeat of a representative democracy. Remember....the root of advocacy is "voca"....the voice!
1. Don't be a stranger to your elected officials and their staff members. The most persuasive messages come from familiar faces. Know your elected officials by name, and make sure they know you by name. Anonymity is the antithesis of effectiveness. Invite elected officials and their staff to your community program for conversations and photos. When it comes to creating a positive impression....Seeing is Believing.
2. Introduce yourself at every opportunity. Always have business cards with you and hand them out like candy at Halloween -- always have extras. Ask for cards from others and send them an acknowledgement note or e-mail within a day or two of the meeting.
3. Always say "thank you" before you say "please." Even if you disagree with your elected official's positions on some (or even most) issues, they are more likely to listen to you if you've found some way to praise them. If nothing else, thank them for the courage to be a public office holder. Negative talk is contagious and may come back to haunt you.
4. A well-written, brief thank you note is always appreciated. Elected officials get 25 complaints for every compliment. Like my wise hotel maitre 'd once taught me during my dining room waitering days, "Only two types of people respond well to an honest compliment -- males and females." Positive attitudes and kind words make for good tips!
5. The hometown connection is essential for elected officials to listen with both ears. Concentrate on principles of policy, rather than too many specifics which may change by the hour. Trust that your "Capitol-based professional advocates" know the details; your job is to set the stage and to pave the way for your allied advocates at the Capitol. There's a real difference between lobbying and advocacy. Lobbyists make it hard for elected officials to say "No." Advocates make it easy for them to say "Yes." Advocates do not need to be partisan and never resort to threats to be effective. Teamwork is essential!
6. Always be concise and to the point. The policy issue or program you advocate should to be compressed into a paragraph and a two-minute presentation. The key to influence is not volume, but precision. Elected officials are not experts, but don't want to be overwhelmed with your knowledge. Have them trust you as someone to turn to for more details if they are needed. Sharpen your point and it will make an impact.
7. Engage the media (or schmooze the newsies!!) who have the power to send your message far and wide. An expert source and passionate volunteer are golden to every reporter and editorial/opinion writer -- but, be careful: they should not perceive you as seeking "publicity." Once you're viewed as an accessible expert when they're on deadline, you can pitch them ideas anytime. The media is an advocate's most cost-effective megaphone. Be a news consumer and share coverage links with your supporters and community opinion leaders.
8. Write Letters to the Editor. Submit letters and guest op-ed columns, and encourage allies to do the same. The opinion pages are read word-for-word by every public official. It's where powerful people test the pulse of the thinking influence community. You have their attention if your case is made in print. Always attract; Never attack. Be positive and persuasive, giving your readers a reason to care and act on your behalf.
9. Advocacy requires the art of compromise….never expect it all. While we strive for unanimity, we work for majority. There's a difference between compromising principles (a no-no) and a healthy robust policy discussion. Long-term relationships require understanding where everyone is coming from before you decide where you’re going. Burned bridges are impossible to cross, and antagonistic scars may never heal.
10. While there's strength in diversity, there's power in unity. Bring as many diverse voices to your cause as possible, but reach a unifying message. Agree on the important unifying goals and success will be achieved. Finally, prevention is the best of all policy positions. Keeping bad things from happening applies to every age and stage of life!
"Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
- Anthropologist Margaret Mead
The Advocate's Credo:
Thou art my child, my parent, and my elder,
I love thee best,
But could not love thee half as much,
Loved I not all the rest.
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