The Trustee's Role in Effective Advocacy

General guidelines for building relationships with policy makers

Effective advocacy is a continuum of activities focused on educating policy makers about your legislative priorities. These activities can range from in-person meetings to messaging on social media. It is important to understand these various advocacy touch points and the corresponding communication protocols. 

Whether you intend to meet with a policy maker in person, write an email, or host a policy maker on your campus, a few general guidelines are worth following:

Prioritize Your Requests

If you ask for too many things without making it clear what your top priorities are, the policy maker may feel overwhelmed. Rely on your college’s policy priorities to help you determine which actions need the most attention, or time your requests so that you are not asking for more than a few things at once.

Offer to Be a Resource

Policy makers and their staff usually are not experts in the issue areas they cover and often turn to trusted outside experts. Knowing that there’s someone they can call on who really understands a complex issue can be very useful.

Be Polite

Treat policy maker’s staff with the same respect you expect. If you are disagreeable, it will make the staff far less likely to want to work with you in the future.

Be Honest

Policy makers and their staff turn to outside individuals for advice and assistance on important policy issues all the time. They must feel that they can trust the individuals with whom they are dealing. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them that and let them know you will get back to them.

Don’t Vilify the Opposition

In fact, you can go even further by fairly presenting the other side’s argument and then explaining why you have the stronger counter-argument. It’s a great way to build credibility, especially since the person you are dealing with most likely will hear from the other side. He or she will realize that you have developed your position based on a careful evaluation of the facts.

Don’t Talk About a Campaign with Staff

Laws against staff involvement in their member’s campaign are very strict. In particular, any suggestion that the staff person’s help on a legislative issue may translate into a campaign contribution is strictly forbidden.

Persistence Pays

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in dealing with members of Congress or your state legislature and their staff is that persistence pays. In many cases, you may have to ask more than once before a policy maker is able to respond to your request. However, be mindful of the frequency of your correspondence. It’s appropriate to allow several weeks between follow up if the issue is not time sensitive.

This article contains an excerpt from the ACCT publication The Trustee's Role in Effective Advocacy. This book can be purchased from the ACCT Bookstore.

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