Sandra Sims – National Academy of Health and Physical Literacy Southern Tier Representative
Advocacy is a continuous process. Advocacy is not just passing legislation; it involves educating policymakers throughout the year about the importance of achieving health and wellness. The following advocacy tips are organized using the ABC’s but are not organized in the order that they occurred.
A. Agree on a plan of action.
Each year, the leaders of the state association should develop a plan of action for advocacy. That plan should include specific goals with benchmarks and timelines for each goal. All leaders should agree to work on the plan as a group, including identifying specific people to be responsible for each goal.
B. Build relationships with policymakers throughout their term, not just when you need them.
Policymakers want to know their constituents. If they only see you when you need them, that is not a relationship—that is a “usership”.
C. Collaborate with other groups with similar goals.
Building coalitions with others is an excellent way to design a team approach. Power is in the numbers. Having other groups supporting your causes and you supporting their causes will develop a powerful team.
D. Develop a Legislative Handbook with contact information for all board members to use throughout the year.
Information is available online with all of the contact information you need to develop this book. Include helpful hints for your members on how to contact their legislators in the handbook. You should also include pictures so the member can identify their legislator when they are visiting them in person.
E. Educate every policymaker so they can make objective decisions on your issues.
Education is critical for successful legislation. Design one-page flyers on all of the advocacy issues. These can easily be posted on the web, handed to a policymaker and used by all members to communicate the key points of your message.
F. Find money in your state association budget for a lobbyist or consultant.
Lobbyists/consultants are worth their money if they provide you with inside information that most constituents do not have. Lobbyists/consultants have developed relationships with many legislators. Having their “ear to the ground” can allow you to be more proactive in lobbying efforts. These efforts will strengthen your chances to pass or to kill legislation.
G. Give awards and proclamations to policymakers rewarding their advocacy efforts.
Everyone likes a pat on the back. Acknowledging people for their advocacy efforts is a great way to thank them for standing up for your issues. Giving these awards out in front of your members gives the policymaker a chance to see how many people they have impacted with their advocacy efforts.
H. Help write the policy/bill/amendment/resolution to be given to your key policymaker.
Writing a policy/bill/amendment/resolution takes time. Having it already written will help the policymaker see what key points you want specifically to be included in the document.
I. Identify a key legislator to be the spokesperson for your bill/amendment/resolution in both houses.
Legislators who hold leadership positions on legislative committees often have more power than other legislators. A powerful spokesperson can help move legislation faster than others just due to their positions on committees.
J. Join your lobbyist at the Capitol and visit key legislators together.
Lobbyists have already formed relationships with the legislators that help make face to face meetings easier. Doors may be easier to open when a lobbyist/consultant who has “worked the halls” attends the meetings with you.
K. Keep positive and do not burn any bridges during this long process.
Advocacy is an ongoing process and losing a battle here and there does not mean the war is over. Stay positive with those who stand opposed to you and vote against you. Over time, you will have an opportunity to help them in other advocacy issues that you agree on. This may open a door to the policymaker to view your opinions differently. If you act in anger after the policymaker does not vote your way, you can damage that relationship for the term of the policymaker.
L. Learn from past experiences which will help you to be better prepared in the future.
Keep records throughout all of your advocacy experiences. Note important issues that caused obstacles and work to find a solution in the down time (out of the policymaking/legislative sessions). Being proactive instead of reactive is a better approach to passing policies and legislation. Remember, much of your advocacy work should occur before a policy or bill comes up for a vote.
M. Motivate everyone throughout the advocacy process.
Encouragement is needed to help members stay focused during the long advocacy process of passing legislation. Association members are the lifeline for grassroots efforts and need to be encouraged to see the legislation through to passage. Keeping everyone motivated is one of the keys to a successful advocacy process.
N. Negotiate to help with the passage of the bill/amendment/resolution.
Negotiations and compromise are often needed to pass legislation. Work hard to find the obstacles hindering passage of the legislation and try to negotiate with the policymakers to find a fair balance. However, know your limits in negotiations and do not cross those lines.
O. Organize a legislative day at the Capitol.
Many members have never been to their state capitol and have never spoken face to face with their legislators. The time and money needed to successfully organize this event will be worth it to your state association and to your members. All legislative day participants should be given instructions on where to go and what to say during the visit. Having a gift bag for the legislator and staff members will also help with the initial visit.
P. Post all legislative handouts and media publications on your website for use by all members.
Keeping everyone informed is crucial in advocacy efforts. Posting all legislative handouts and advocacy presentations is a fast and easy way to keep all members educated and equipped for your advocacy efforts.
Q. Question the myth that resolutions are just paper and cannot make major changes.
Bills are excellent means for transforming a state but often are very tough to pass. Sometimes a simple resolution or even a joint resolution can offer a line of communication when a bill gets stuck in committees.
R. Research the issue extensively so you can give correct and credible information.
Having correct and credible information is critical in legislative relationship building and educating policymakers. Always providing up-to-date information will increase your chances of having the policymaker listen to you in the future. If you provide incorrect or misleading information, policymakers will likely remember that, and it will hurt your credibility with them.
S. Speak at all public forums on the bill.
Having the opportunity to educate the public on our profession is a pleasure. Your association needs to be visible during these events. Having 2-3 speakers who are consistently present will speak volumes. In fact, the very presence of being there, reminds policymakers of the dedicated advocacy efforts by your association.
T. Train members on how to communicate with their policymakers.
All members need the basic “how to” skills on communicating face to face, on the phone, through mail and email. This information should be placed in your legislative handbook and also posted on your website.
U. Update all members on policy changes and legislative action items before, during and after they occur.
Keeping members posted on all of our legislative items is a tough task. We have used emails, newsletters, flyers, word of mouth and town hall meetings. The method depends on the time of year and the timing of the policy/legislative action.
V. Voice your opinions throughout the year through the media.
Among the best public relations approaches your state association can have, is to encourage all members to disseminating positive activities in local papers during the year. We do not promote our profession enough during the year. We need to involve the media more to help educate others about what we do throughout the year.
W. Write thank you letters to everyone involved.
Everyone loves praise and thank you letters are a quick and easy way to do that. Handwritten thank you letters are a great way to pat policymakers on the back for a job well done.
X. X by the names of all policymakers who voted for you on one vote.
Most policymakers hold their office position for years. Keeping up with supporters will help with possible future votes. Do not count the non-supporters out of your plan. Knowing who did not support your last piece of legislation will inform who of who you should work on for future votes.
Y. Yield to the ideas and opinions of your lobbyist and your key legislator on how to help pass the legislation.
Wise lobbyists and legislators know what is needed to pass legislation. Trust their expert advice on how to pass the legislation. However, be careful that you do not compromise your important issues.
Z. Zap your opponent’s information to kill your legislation by keeping abreast of what they are telling the legislators and have an informed, positive response to those issues raised.
The best way to stay in the battle is to know what your opponent is saying to oppose your legislation. Gathering that information and responding to it in a positive way will lead to correcting much of the misinformation that is used to fight against your legislation.
Success is often measured by wins and losses; however, true success is being competitive year after year. Advocacy success is often harder to measure. It may take years to make policy improvements. The state association who is always visible, always on committees, always working to improve the health and wellness of others in the state will truly be seen as a winner of advocacy efforts in their state.