Building a relationship with your elected officials is no different than cultivating a donor. You can’t expect to call them last minute on an important issue affecting your nonprofit and get results…unless you live in his or her district, but I digress.
Our current Page to Practice™ feature of the One-Hour Activist by Christopher Kush is a smart tutorial on making incremental progress on advocacy without detracting from your core responsibilities as an executive director, staff member or board member. Each of the “10 most powerful actions you can take to fight for the issues and candidates you care about” takes no more than an hour but cumulatively add up to a conscientious approach to advocacy for your cause. Kush also provides five “super-sized” actions that take more than an hour but are worth the effort.
Get to know your legislator: One of the most proactive measures you can take in advocacy no matter how involved you decide to be is to develop a relationship with your legislator. You may be wondering what value you can bring to your elected official by meeting with them. The answer is a lot.
Bring two clients: When I asked Kush about what nonprofit leaders can do when preparing for a meeting, he said, “There are always compelling stories related to important issues–it is usually a matter of taking the time to find them and refine them. I always ask nonprofit executives to ‘bring’ two clients with them whenever they come to Washington, DC, or the state Capitol. Nonprofit professionals should be ready to articulate the experiences of their front-line clients (members or constituencies). By the way, people who work for nonprofits often don’t realize they do have personal stories. Jobs are very interesting to elected officials right now, so just working for a local nonprofit can in and of itself be a compelling ‘story.’”
I dug deeper with Kush on this topic with the following question: In Part Five, you discuss the mistakes nonprofits make when meeting with lawmakers. What’s the most common among them? Here’s what Kush had to say:
Don’t overwhelm with aggregate stats on your issue–anecdotal information does more: You are in a pretty good position if you are actually meeting with lawmakers, even if you stumble. The first mistake is to NOT regularly (at least once a year) talk to your federal, state and local lawmakers to let them know whom you are serving and what the local trends are related to your issues. Any service a nonprofit provides is one less service lawmakers might be asked to provide in their local offices. Nonprofits that are nervous about tax status can be mindful about not making any specific legislative requests when communicating with their elected officials. (Don’t discuss any current legislation.) The biggest mistake if you ARE meeting with your legislator is to rely on massive aggregate statistics to make your impact. Almost all elected officials are far more engaged by small numbers–the number of people who are being served locally, the number of local jobs you provide, the names of local board members, etc.–than they are by the bland large numbers we often rely on to impress.
Watch for more Page to Practice interview highlights in our next blog.
Christopher Kush and Soapbox Consulting
Image credit: RobertEgger.org