Stronger background checks, more funding for preschool, better healthcare coverage, these are all actions that happen when advocates do their job. Whether you are a professional or a volunteer, putting a plan together requires thought and insight and, when executed well, can deliver measurable results. Before you drain a tank of gas driving to Jefferson City or wear out a pair of shoes walking the hallways of the Missouri State Capitol, take time to build an advocacy plan based on your strengths and your story.
1) Be strategic.
Use your goal as a compass to drive your strategic plan.
For example, if you want childcare workers to undergo stronger background checks, then find out who else benefits from this policy. Associations, councils and other advocates may care about the same issue and want to work as a team. It’s important to communicate and collaborate with these groups to amplify your shared mission. It’s equally important to research who may not benefit from the policy, understanding their rationale and motivation to work against you.
Learn the language of politics, policy and lawmaking.
When discussing legislation, it’s crucial to understand the lingo. If you hear that a bill will be “on the floor next week”, do you know what that means or what to do next? Talk to a lobbyist, a professional association or use internet search engines to familiarize yourself with your state’s legislative terminology.
Know the political climate and understand what is feasible.
Often pursuing unrealistic goals will cause disappointment, frustration and despair and lead you to believe that your efforts are not respected. Learning how to celebrate incremental wins can help maintain the momentum needed to achieve success if the path to victory is slow and bumpy.
2) Understand the process.
Visit the Missouri House of Representatives and Missouri Senate websites to see the legislative session dates.
For example, lawmakers can only file new bills between December 1st and early March. That means planning must begin before the legislature convenes in January.
Get to know committee chairs and members where the speaker of the house or the president of the senate may refer your bills of interest.
Committee membership changes each year and so may the priorities of the chair. Also, be aware of the budgetary climate each year. If state revenue collections are down, then understand that a policy with a large price tag (i.e. a large fiscal note) may be unrealistic.
3) Cultivate champions.
Appeal to interest rather than intellect. Lawmakers won’t care about your facts and figures if they don’t care about your issue.
Put kids at the center and then figure out how issues relate to child well-being. A lawmaker who believes in traditional family values may support home visitation programs like Parents as Teachers because it helps build strong families. A lawmaker tough on crime may appreciate the connection between social-emotional development and crime reduction. Examining the child through a variety of interests like workforce development, education, health, law & order, and family values will provide an array of touch points that you can use to connect to each lawmaker.
4) Build relationships.
Improve the chances your issue receives attention by building relationships with lawmakers centered on trust and understanding.
You can develop connections through outreach efforts. For example, you can invite a legislator for coffee or a tour of your location when the General Assembly is not in session. Other ways to engage include educating elected officials with research and data, providing talking points and infographics that support your narrative, and finding opportunities to mingle and network with politicians and policymakers. Make your win, their win.
5) Tell your story.
Make your stories personal and compelling. When legislators debate bills on the chamber floor, it’s your stories they tell.
First, make a strong case by having a persuasive message like “seat belts save lives”, “smoking kills”, or “reading is fundamental”. Be sure your material is polished, accurate and well-written. Cement your “who, what, why, when, where and how”. Be able to answer questions and if you don’t know the answer say, “I will get back to you” and make sure you follow up. Understand the history of an issue, use numbers and facts to support your arguments and make it personal. Local stories help people relate.
Spread the word.
Advocacy extends beyond your actions in the Capitol or your interactions with lawmakers. Fight for your issue through multiple channels to form the groundswell needed for change. Educate the public through the collective efforts of a variety of partners. Through strategy, relationships and story-telling, issue advocacy can turn ideas into action.