Tips on Being an Advocate

These are some of the factors that affect your success:

√ Constituent Power: Elected officials are the most responsive to voters in their district, and especially, if you are registered. If you are a constituent, your communications should make note of that fact, sometimes even with your street address.

√ Connection to a Citizens Group: If you are part of a citizens group or some other group working together in coalition in your advocacy efforts, your communications should make note of that fact. This helps build the reputation and power base of your group to effect change on the issues you care about with the elected official. Being a part of a citizens group will also assist you in your advocacy efforts. This is because your efforts will be combined with other individuals who care about your issue, and are timed strategically as part of a larger campaign.

√ Personal relationships: As with other people, legislators respond more positively to people they know rather than people who are strangers. Sometimes the best way to influence an elected official may involve recruiting someone who has a personal relationship with an elected official (such as a relative, their minister, a campaign donor, etc.) to carry the message.

√ Knowledge of the issue: You can increase your credibility with elected officials by knowing the issue or being a resource. However, if you don’t know the answer to a question, never guess or give information of which you are not sure. This could ruin your credibility -- let the legislator know that you are passing the question on or finding the answer, and then do that.

√ Knowledge of a legislator’s past voting record or position on your issue: Knowing these important factors can often determine the intensity of your advocacy efforts towards a legislator. If a legislator is supportive, it’s important to recognize them for his/her past support. If a legislator has a mixed record or unknown position, it’s an excellent opportunity for educating the legislator and many advocacy campaigns are directed towards these legislators the most. If a legislator is opposed, your communications may identify a specific way that a legislator may be in “your camp” (it would be critical to pass this info onto your group’s lobbyist in this case). Although if a legislator is adamantly opposed, your best bet may be only to begin a dialogue – since you don’t know what other matters you may be approaching a legislator in the future.

√ “Timing can be everything:” During the legislative session, there are thousands of bills and too little time for legislators to “digest” every word. Elected officials rely on advocates and lobbyists to help them focus on important issues. When you communicate to legislators during the session, you need to understand those time constraints and focus your message, too. In addition, it is often important to deliver your message at key times (when a bill is assigned to the committee, when there is committee action to be taken, etc.) in order to be most effective. The best time to really get to know your legislators is before the legislative session begins.

√ Treat legislators with respect, no matter what their position: Always approach elected officials in a cooperative, respectful manner even if their position is radically opposed to your position. Sometimes one may feel frustrated with an elected official who remains adamantly opposed to your view (even despite the scientific research, evidence of constituent support, etc.); however, please don’t “burn bridges” no matter how frustrated one may get.


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