Legislative Advocacy 101: Phones Calls, Testimonies and More
What else can be done for advocacy?
In this Legislative 101 series, we take a look at other opportunities and options in getting your elected officials to notice and accept your cause.
Since the first Legislative 101 article, we have looked at contact via social media, email and letters and in-person meetings. This week, we’re offering some general tips, as well as advice for making phone calls and giving testimonies.
So without further delay, let’s get to it!
Contacting by Phone
Elected officials are incredibly busy. Sometimes, the best way to reach your elected official is a brief phone call. If you need to call, be sure to consider the following:
- Keep the conversation short, sweet and to the point. You’ll have limited time. Make the most of it.
- Make yourself notes before dialing. This way, you won’t forget what you need to say or stray from the point you were making.
- As always, identify yourself as a constituent.
- If your legislator is unable to talk, leave your name, organization, telephone number and a short message with an appropriate staff member.
While a bill is being considered, there are times that the public will have the opportunity to give thoughts on the issue. If you ever wind up giving a testimony at a public hearing, remember the following tips:
- Do your homework on the issue. Read the proposed bill. Talk to industry association leaders and others in the industry. Do some online searches of communities who have experienced a similar situation.
- Know who is on the legislative committee. What districts do they represent? What is their history regarding the issue or similar issues?
- Try to get a feel for what the legislative “lead” on the committee is thinking about the issue. In other words, are you likely to be met with leadership supporting your statements, or will you be in defense mode – providing evidence and rationale for changing leadership’s mind?
- Anticipate the questions you may be asked, and prepare your responses.
- Relate the bill to your personal experience or life. If they wanted only facts, they’d read a report.
- Relate the bill to how it will affect you, your family, your community, etc. Legislators represent constituents, so they want to know how these voters will be impacted.
- Be unique. Tell a story. The goal is to make sure your message is remembered.
- Don’t make them guess what you’re trying to say. Be specific, and answer why the bill is important and how it will improve the state, community, etc.
- Have one primary message, and then back it up by two or three major points.
- Support these points by evidence, examples, facts brought to life, etc.
PUT PEN TO PAPER
- Although you are providing oral testimony, you will be asked for a printed copy of your statement or will be asked to submit your paper online prior to the committee.
- At the top of the paper, identify your name, your organization, the bill name and number, the committee and your position.
- Address your paper and comments to the Committee Chair first, then to members of the committee.
- State your opinion in a summary paragraph at the very beginning of the testimony. Don’t make them guess what your position is.
- Be respectful of the time schedule, the committee and your opponents who may also be testifying.
- Introduce yourself, and establish your relationship to the subject, such as your job and history in the subject.
- State your position as “for” or “against” clearly, and identify the bill by name and number.
- Don’t take comments personally. Keep your cool.
- Dress in business attire.
- Show up well in advance, bring enough written copies of your testimony for the entire committee and be sure to thank the committee for their time following your remarks.
- Don’t read testimony word-for-word if you can’t help it. A conversational style is more effective.
- Bring supporters. A group of people backing your testimony tells an important story.
- Wait briefly following your testimony for questions from committee members.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them you do not know, volunteer to find the answer and get back to the committee with the answer.
- Don’t repeat what others before you have said. This may take some ‘thinking on your feet’ to provide a different message.
- Don’t fret if committee members come and go; sometimes they have multiple meetings scheduled at the same time.
- You will speak from a podium facing the committee members. Your back will be turned away from the galley audience. Do not twist and turn. Just address your comments to the committee.
- It is an official hearing. Open your remarks with “Mr./Mrs. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for allowing me to speak on behalf of….” Opening your remarks professionally and officially will help to solidify what you need to say in the eyes of your audience.
- If your elected official is there, make sure to identify yourself as a constituent.
- Create your statement beforehand, but don’t read it. Use it as a reference if you get lost, but focus more on maintaining eye contact with your audience.
- Try to add a real-life story to your statement. It will make your argument and desires more relatable and concrete.
Maintaining your relationship with your elected official
One of the best things you can do is to keep in touch with your elected official. It's about developing a relationship of trust and respect. Elected officials are often only contacted when a constituent wants something. If your elected official feels that you genuinely like them and are willing to work with them, they may be more open to what you have to say. Here’s how to keep in touch (while helping your cause):
- Schedule a breakfast with them in your district. Most weeks, state elected officials are in their district offices Monday and Friday. Some prefer meeting with constituents at home.
- Add your elected official to your mailing list, but don’t send them everything. Sending them your annual reports and other major updates, like industry fact sheets and research updates, will keep them in the know and informed as to how they are impacting your industry.
- Attend fundraisers or send a contribution if you can’t make it.
- Visit your legislator’s office, and invite them to do the same to yours. Show them around and explain your business, such as employment, payroll and taxes. If you can schedule a meeting on a busy day, it will look good and show that your business has an important impact on the economy.
- Offer your elected official the opportunity to write or contribute to an article for your organization. It will help them feel included in what you do, plus it'll give you a really good idea of what they are thinking about matters important to you..
- Help your elected official with publicity. Getting their names and faces out in the community are important for elected officials at all levels. Consider allowing yard signs at your home . Take pictures of them actively participating within the industry and post them online (with their permission!).
The Legislative Advocacy 101 Series was written by OTA intern Sean Mekinda. I hope that it has been useful to you and will help you better communicate with elected officials!
For more from our Legislative Advocacy 101 series, visit the following: