Fertility Within Reach provides words of expertise from professionals to help you prepare for your advocacy efforts. Most of this information is specified for legislative efforts. However, the stategies are universal.
Quotation from Governor Michael Dukakis
“Guide for Effective Advocacy,” written by Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, former Massachusetts State Representative
“Preparing for a Legislative Meeting,” written by Krina Patel, Esq., Lobbyist with The Suffolk Group
“I signed hundreds of bills during my twelve years as governor of Massachusetts. None of them was any more important than my signing of the in vitro fertilization bill. It has provided happiness and the joys of parenting for thousands of people in the Commonwealth and inspired similar efforts in dozens of other states. And it wouldn’t have happened without the tireless efforts of literally hundreds of couples in the state and the overwhelming majority of the members of the Massachusetts legislature. They deserve all the credit for a remarkable legislative achievement and everything that has flowed from it ever since.”- Governor Michael Dukakis
Guide to Effective Advocacy
Know Your Audience
Who are your legislators and from where do they come? What have they done on your issue? What else can they do on your behalf?
Do Your Homework
Be prepared to answer as many questions as you can. Anticipate the types of questions that might be asked of you.
Help Us Help You
Make sure you have plenty of details about your proposal ready to go. This will allow you to make a more compelling case for your proposal.
Tell personal stories. Legislators like to hear them. Does the legislator already have a family member or friend who has been touched by this issue?
The Get Along Gang
Build a strong coalition. The less support you demonstrate for your initiative, the more your legislators must “go out on a limb” in order to help you.
While it’s not good practice to inundate legislator’s offices with your calls, visits and correspondence, its good practice to show your interest in an issue by keeping in touch.
Timing Is Everything
Is this an election year? If so, how might that influence the legislation or programs for which you are advocating?
Media coverage– If you want to get press coverage for your issue, give the media plenty of advance notice and target reporters who are likely to write about a topic.
Public Sentiment– Understand how the public feels about your issue. This will help determine how legislators might act on it.
Author: Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, former Massachusetts State Representative
Preparing for a Legislative Meeting
Don’t be intimidated about the thought of meeting with a Legislator. Most Legislators and their Offices are very approachable and willing to meet with individuals and groups. It is useful to know when your state Legislature is in Session (when they convene and adjourn for the year). This information can be found on the state Legislature’s website. If you are a constituent, mention this important fact when scheduling the meeting and again when you go in for your meeting. Also, if there are several groups working on the same side of an issue, it may be worthwhile coordinating meetings as this can be a better use of the Legislator’s time. However, at any meeting, try to limit the group of people you bring in to 4 people or less as this allows the meeting to remain brief and flow better. It is also important to dress professionally, no matter who you are meeting with and who you are representing as this conveys to the Legislator that you are serious about your cause and also respect their authority. To get the most out of your legislative meeting and after, it is important to be prepared. It is worth researching some background information on the Legislator, which can be found on the state Legislature’s website, such as their District, any relevant leadership position or committee membership they may have, biographical information and any connection they may have to the issue that you are advocating for.
When you schedule a meeting with a Legislator’s Office, you can expect to meet with the staff, the Legislator or both. The Legislator you meet with may be the sponsor of the bill and have detailed knowledge of all of its provisions, its legislative history, its likelihood for success, etc. Or, you could meet with a Legislator where this is the first time that they have heard of the bill or even the first time that they are learning about the issue. Also, don’t underestimate the value of meeting with a staff person as a lot of the times it is the staff person who has worked on and has the most detailed knowledge of the bill. Whoever you end up meeting with or whatever their understanding of the issue may be, try and be flexible in your approach to these meetings and adjust your expectations accordingly. Be able to offer basic information or respond to questions about what the bill does and why it is needed. Personal stories are the most compelling information you can provide, so when you are in meetings and testifying in hearings, use this as an opportunity to tell your story. You can always leave behind materials that detail the bill, but when you have an opportunity to have face-time with a Legislator, it is worth using this time to convey your story or the story of others close to you. It is also good practice to be mindful of the Legislator’s time, so try and limit the meeting to a half hour. Keep a positive tone throughout the meeting and end by offering to help the Legislator in any way that they may need.
Be able to leave behind a brief fact sheet/position paper, preferably on letterhead. If you are supporting an existing bill, include the bill number, bill title, legislative history, what the bill does and contact information. If the bill would lead to cost savings for the state and/or if other states have acted in this area, this information is valuable to include and helpful as Legislators try to make their case to others. Legislators are often dealing with numerous bills, and their Offices are often flooded with paper, so it is important to make the fact sheet readable, concise and stand out. If the bill does advance, it may be useful updating the fact sheet with more detailed information. As legislative sessions in some states are long, it is worth periodically checking in with the Offices that you have met with and providing any new and relevant information you have and continuing to offer your help. Keep a log with brief notes of all of your meetings as this will be helpful to refer to during the course of the legislative Session.
Every meeting can have something useful come out of it. You may succeed in having a Legislator sign on in support of your bill; offer to speak to House or Senate leadership about it, etc. Even if you find that the Legislator may not be supportive, you may learn some of the opposing arguments that can help better prepare you.
Author: Krina Patel, Esq., Lobbyist with The Suffolk Group