Top 10 Advocacy Tips (Plus THREE Bonus Tips!) Vicky Selkowe, Chief of Staff, State Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) March 14, 2013
1. Provide your full name. Say it clearly and slowly if you're leaving a voicemail message and make sure your email includes your first and last name.
2. Provide your full address and your phone number. Include your street, city, and zip. Though legislative staffers enjoy hearing from and reading the views of citizens from around the state, we are most interested in responding to constituents. To confirm that you are a constituent, we need your full address.
3. State your position clearly. If you are emailing, put your position in the subject line of your email, i.e. "I oppose Walker's Medicaid budget provisions" or "Budget Cuts to K-12 Will Be Devastating to My Community" or "I'm Opposed to Budget Changes to Recycling." In a voicemail, state it early on in your message after your name, phone number, and address. Picture the bleary-eyed staffer sifting through hundreds of emails and dozens of phone messages and make your message as effective as possible by making it clear whether you are for or against a provision and what provision you're referring to.
4. Do not send form messages. Tell YOUR story. Are you a teacher? Are you a correctional officer? What will the budget as a whole or specific provisions mean for you and your family or your organization and your clients? Give some context to help the legislator understand the real impact of this bill on your life, your family, your colleagues, your work. The emails that are most compelling and memorable are the ones that are personalized. Many, many staffers print out the best emails for legislators to read - but we sure don't print out the form emails unless we know the sender. Imagine your email message being read out loud by the legislator, and make it powerful.
5. Do not e-SHOUT, yell, threaten, use hyperbole, or send repeated emails. Putting your email in 44 point all-caps red font or menacingly threatening the legislator's re-election will not enhance your credibility. We also tend to roll our eyes at messages that are clearly exaggerations. Make yourself credible by sticking to the facts. You're also not likely to be well-received if you send an email every day. I understand the impulse, but being a pest doesn't make you more effective.
6. Do not email "all legislators." While it's fine to email all legislators and all staff, you really are just cluttering the inboxes of all of the state reps and state senators who don't represent you and who are likely to just delete your message. Be more effective and more efficient: find out who actually represents YOU here: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/w3asp/waml/waml.aspx and contact YOUR state Representative, state Senator, and, of course, the Governor, who represents us all.
7. Speaking of the Governor, don't forget to contact him. Make sure you send him an email letting him know your views: Govgeneral@wisconsin.gov.
9. Do your homework before you contact a legislator. Spend a couple of minutes trying to figure out if your representatives are for or against the provision you care about before you make contact. Nothing makes you look worse than calling a legislator's office and yelling at whoever answers the phone that "he'd better not support this piece of crap bill or I'm going to vote him out of office!" (See also #5, above, re. threats and yelling...) when the legislator you're calling has been a vocal and outspoken opponent of that provision.
10. Absolutely contact your legislators even if you know they're already on your side. They love to hear from constituents who have their back and agree with them on an issue. It makes 'em feel all warm & fuzzy. And your encouragement and thanks are often what sustains them through the long hours. AND legislators are keeping tallies of how many constituents contact them about different budget provisions, so you want to be counted. So yes, even if your legislator is a progressive champion and you're pretty sure he or she is on your side, call or email anyway. Just be nice and do it.
If you can, schedule an in-person meeting with your Representative or Senator's office about the budget provisions about which you’re most concerned. These meetings, if done right, are incredibly effective. So if you're meeting in-person with your elected official, all of the above tips apply plus the special "bonus" tips below:
BONUS TIP 1: Be Nice to Staff: If you get a meeting with a legislative office, you will more than likely meet with staff. Don't be disappointed by this. You'll likely get more time with staff than you would with the legislator anyway, and staff have the ears of their bosses.
BONUS TIP 2: Remember "the legal pad": In a legislative meeting, the legislator or staff will likely be taking notes on a legal pad of paper. You want four main things recorded on that pad of notes at the end of the meeting so make sure you gear your communications to getting these four things conveyed effectively:
1. Who are you? (A constituent? A teacher? A local elected official? A health care professional? A bus driver? The Executive Director of a nonprofit?)
2. What is your issue? Provide a clear, concise - ONE PAGE MAX - statement of your issue and be prepared to orally provide that clear summary in about 2-3 minutes. It should NOT take you 10 minutes to explain your issue.
3. Why is your issue important? (Why does it matter to you and why should it matter to the elected and his/her staff?)
4. What do you want the elected official to do about it? (What is your "ask"?) Do you want the elected official to oppose a certain provision? Sponsor a budget motion to increase funding for a program? Come speak at a rally about this issue? Author an opinion piece in the local paper (using information you supply) about this issue? Be clear about what you’re asking for. If you leave a meeting without making a clear, tangible ask and either getting an answer or having a follow-up plan in place to get that answer, you have wasted a golden advocacy opportunity.
BONUS TIP 3: Think About Your Audience and Your Messenger: Do your homework ahead of time to think about things like: what is the legislator’s background? What is her/his voting record on the issues you want to talk about? If the legislator is an accountant, maybe it makes sense to bring in another accountant who can speak the legislator’s language. Or if the legislator has a health care background, bring in a doctor or a hospital administrator or a nurse. Also think about the legislator’s district – what facts or information about the district will be helpful in this meeting? Think through what you think might sway this particular legislator and plan your meeting carefully, including who will speak in what order and covering what points.
Go forth and advocate successfully and effectively! Feel free to email me at email@example.com if you or your organization is looking for additional advocacy tips. Vicky Selkowe, Chief of Staff, State Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) March 14, 2013
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