In December 2018, the Center hosted a panel discussion in Prince William County entitled “An Insider’s Perspective: Advocacy Efforts That Work!” The panelists included three individuals with extensive experience as staff to legislators. They shared some of their insider tips about how to make the most effective use of your time meeting with legislators to advocate for your mission and issues important to your organization.
The panelists were:
- Philip Scranage, current Legislative Aide to Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell
- Devon Cabot, current Vice President at Two Capitols Consulting, former Legislative Aide to Virginia State Senator Jeremy McPike and former Chief of Staff to Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi (Prince William County Board of Supervisors)
- Ross Snare, current Director of Government Affairs, Prince William Chamber of Commerce and former Legislative Aide to Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, former Legislative Aide to Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity and former Session Aide to Majority Caucus Chairman Delegate Tim Hugo.
Strategically timed to take place in advance of the Virginia legislative session convening in January, the event drew nonprofits from the Prince William County area. However, the information shared is relevant for all nonprofits looking to advocate with elected officials. So we wanted to share some of these key tips and advice from legislative “insiders”.
8 tips to strengthen your impact when meeting with elected officials:
- Most important – Come Informed! Before meeting with your legislator know where he/she stands on the issue you want to discuss. If it’s a specific bill, know the status of that bill and whether your legislator agrees or disagrees with your position. Know what committees the legislator sits on and whether or not the committee has already voted on that bill. (Don’t waste the legislator’s time or yours by advocating for a bill that has already died in committee!)
- Be a constituent of that legislator or have a constituent with you. Legislators want most of all to hear from constituents in their own district.
- Build coalitions: If your organization does not have constituents in a particular legislator’s district, consider partnering with another organization that does. Note: the panelists agreed this is an effective tactic that nonprofits often fail to utilize.
- Quantify the impact. Effective advocates will be able to combine personal stories with quantifiable evidence of how the issue they are discussing will impact lives.
- Bring a “one-pager” about your organization—what you do, who you serve and why it matters. Be sure the legislator’s staff knows how to follow up with you with any questions. Offer to provide testimony if relevant.
- Bring an appropriate number of people. Among topics discussed was whether or not it is effective to bring large groups of people served to an advocacy meeting. Since time is so limited (and offices are so small), large groups were seen as less effective in educating a legislator about the specifics of an issue. The panelists viewed this tactic as most effective in a) relationship building with the legislator and b) engaging the people you serve. They suggested that town halls are a great opportunity to bring a large group. Panelists also felt that calls and emails stating your position on an issue are more effective than petitions.
- Make sure you get the Legislative Aide’s business card before you leave!
- Build a relationship. Most of all, our insiders emphasized the importance of building a relationship with your legislator over time. Invite them to visit your organization. Show up at their town halls, follow them on social media and send them your announcements. As one panelist put it, “If the first time you’re talking to your legislator is in Richmond, you’re doing it wrong”.