8 tips for connecting with legislators
The election is over, and even though members of the 129th General Assembly have yet to take the oath of office, Advocates for Ohio's Future suggests that now is the time to start building relationships with legislators. Some representatives and senators will be brand-new to the job. Even if they are returning for another term, they rely on advocates like you to help them learn about their district, their constituents, and the array of quality health, human services, and early care & education programs available locally.
Relationships involve ongoing communication and interaction. Below are some tips for engaging your legislators now, at the end of 2010, and on into 2011.
1) Send congratulatory letters to the election winners in your local coverage area. (For personal addresses of election winners before they take office in January, download this file.) You can also download AOF's sample letter with recommended language.
2) Add legislators to your mail and email lists. Make sure they receive your newsletter, annual report, and other pertinent publications.
3) Send positive news articles about a legislator with a short note of congratulations.
4) Send positive news articles about your organization with a brief note.
5) Invite legislators to all organization events (award ceremonies, community events hosted by your organization, special events). They may not always be able to attend but may send aides in their place. If you know they are coming, give them a role such as presenter or keynote speaker. Seat legislators at a reserved VIP table with you and other key leaders from the organization and community. Recognize them as honored guests.
6) Invite legislators to tour your program or facility.
November and December are perfect times to remind legislators of the need that exists in their districts. Use the holiday season to your advantage.
- Once the General Assembly convenes, legislators will be in session most weeks in Columbus on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. They tend to be in the home district Friday through Monday. Take advantage of these days as well as holidays and legislative recesses to invite them. (Check Legislative Schedules in January 2011 for calendar information.)
- Without taking too much time during the tour, make sure the legislator understands every facet of your organization’s services and impact on the community. Be sure to highlight what the state budget’s investment means, what efficiencies have been implemented to save taxpayer dollars, how volunteers assist with service delivery, how non-state dollars are leveraged, and what a loss of funding has meant in the past and/or would mean in the future.
- Use a mix of data and personal stories. Put a face on the need, if possible, but also point to program successes as documented in evaluations, research, and surveys.
- Use existing relationships to organize a tour of multiple local services (children, seniors, safety-net services, etc.) The extra work required will provide the legislator with a more comprehensive view of local services and a sense that these services support and complement one another.
7) Always send thank you notes and express appreciation after any meeting or event, as well as when a legislator supports legislation important to your organization.
8) Give legislators a personal briefing (to the extent possible) before big news stories hit the public airwaves – both positive and negative stories. Hearing this type of news from you personally, before they read it in the newspaper, builds strong, trusting relationships. Remember, they will undoubtedly get questions about it from their constituents, so this will help them prepare.
As you build relationships with your legislators, keep these points in mind:
- Legislators care about their district and about the people who live there. Meeting with advocates, touring local programs, and listening to the concerns of service providers and consumers are all part of the job and NOT an imposition.
- Don’t wait until you need something from legislators to get to know them. Familiarize them with your organization, board, staff, volunteers, and consumers NOW.
- Legislators represent all of their constituents, regardless of party affiliation. Support for our programs is not a partisan matter.
- Legislators are by and large not subject-matter experts on these issues. Because of term limits, even the most veteran members of the legislature often lack the longevity of service required for a deep understanding. You can become a resource to answer questions for legislators and their staff – both now, as they are getting started, and later, when they are faced with constituent questions.
- In this budget climate, legislators are looking for solutions. They want to hear ideas, concerns, and constructive feedback. They look to advocates like you to be problem-solvers, and we need them to use us as a source of information.
- Legislative aides can be a valuable connection to legislators. Build relationships with them too!
- Use every opportunity when speaking to a legislator to make the case for health, human services, and early care & education programs. This does not mean you have to deliver a “hard-sell” or engage in complex policy discussions. It simply means ensuring that the legislator leaves each interaction knowing more about your program and its value to the community.
Connect your network to AOF
Has your organization endorsed Advocates for Ohio's Future? Once you return the Organization Endorsement Form, you will receive periodic communications from AOF about the budget debate and ways you can get involved.
In addition to organization endorsements, Advocates for Ohio's Future is looking to build a statewide network of people who care about health, human services, and early care & education. Help us reach more supporters by encouraging your board of directors, your staff, your local affiliates, your volunteers, and your consumers to sign up to receive AOF's updates and action alerts.
Advocates for Ohio's Future will help concerned Ohioans stay on top of the budget debate in the Ohio legislature as it unfolds. We will help connect people to their legislators before key votes and give them the tools they need to be effective advocates.
Don't worry -- Advocates for Ohio's Future will not overwhelm your email inbox, solicit donations from you, or share your contact information.
Ask people in your network to sign up -- and get connected!