Building Relationships With Legislators
As an advocate focused mostly on healthcare policy and legislative advocacy, I am often asked how I connect with, and establish relationships with my legislators. Here are some of my tips to help you strengthen connections with your legislators. Please note, I live in the United States. While some of the governmental systems I reference differ from other countries, some of the tips I share can be utilized by advocates living throughout the world.
Establish relationships with local and state government
As advocates, too often we only focus on our Federal House of Representatives, Senators and/or Governor. However, it is beneficial to establish relationships with your local and state government officials as well, such as: Township Trustees, City Council Representatives, City Mayors, County Commissioners, County Executives, State House of Representatives, and your State Senate.
These government officials are just as important as those working in your federal government and governor’s office. Many of these individuals serving on the local level will move into higher positions in government such as State Governors, State Attorney General, Congress or U.S. Senate. So, it's beneficial to connect and build relationships with your local government officials because many of these individuals will move into a higher position in government. Thus, they will be in a better position to support your legislative advocacy efforts.
Sign up to receive email newsletters and updates from your local, state, and federal legislators
These newsletters will help you stay abreast of current issues your legislators are addressing and provide insight on how proposed or established legislation may impact your communities and advocacy efforts. Further, legislators will often use the email newsletter forum to inform their constituents of any upcoming events, meet and greets, round table discussions with constituents, or resource events which you can attend and interface with your legislator or their staff.
Check your legislator’s calendar
You can do this on their website for any upcoming health and/or resource events, meet and greets, community events, or constituent specific “panel discussions” that you can attend, in order to continue relationship building with your legislators. I recommend reviewing your local, state, and federal legislators’ website calendar monthly to check for new events or events that are rescheduled.
Follow your local, state, and federal legislators on social media
With the expansion of social media platforms, most government officials are utilizing these tools to share information in real time. This helps keep you on top of the issues they are working on that impact the communities you represent.
Further, most government leaders, or their staff, will post upcoming community events or town halls. In addition, they sometimes use social media to poll the public on community issues. This is yet another way to represent your communities, engage in advocacy via social media, and provide helpful insight/information on issues impacting your communities.
Become a resource vendor
If you have a non-profit, and your legislator is hosting a health, community, or veteran resource event, I recommend contacting your legislator’s office by phone, and request information on how your organization can register to be a “resource vendor” at these types of events. Not only will you be able to outreach people in your local community, but this also keeps your advocacy and organizational efforts on your legislator’s radar.
Attend town halls
Local, state, and federal legislators will often host telephone, virtual or in person “town halls” to meet with constituents, to update their constituents on the legislation they are working on to improve systems and discuss any concerns impacting their constituents.
Further, town halls provide updates on any issues, or potential laws, that can impact the communities you represent. It also keeps you “fresh” in your legislator’s mind as a leader of the community. As a side note, it may not seem that current issues will impact your communities directly, but keep in mind we are supporting various groups of people, within our advocacy space. To tie this in, I will give a personal example.
My Federal Congressional Representative serves on the Farm/Agriculture sub-committee and the Science and Technology sub-committee. While these congressional committees may not seem to directly impact the communities I represent, nor my advocacy initiatives, I have individuals in my communities who live in rural/farm areas. I have individuals who have difficulty in accessing farm fresh foods. Moreover, I represent some individuals who upstarted small farm homesteads in various parts of the country.
In addition, science and technology can impact medical care and healthcare systems. Telehealth, medical apps, resource apps and Artificial Intelligence are areas of science and technology that will have an ongoing impact on medical systems and the delivery of healthcare services. Thus, it is important that I attend my Congressional Representatives Town Hall meetings, so I can stay abreast of how technology is evolving and its’ impact on medical care, along with represent my community members who are involved in agriculture/farming or live in food deserts.
Create your pitch
When you interface with your legislators at events, town hall meetings, etc. have a 2–3 minute overview prepared of who you are, what you are doing with your advocacy work and/or organization, and how your efforts are supporting constituents within the community. Keep in mind you will only have a few minutes at these events to interact with your legislator or their staff. So, keep your introduction of who you are and what you do short and concise.
ADVOCACY PRO TIP: If you have awareness swag, a pamphlet, or overview flyer about you or your organization, put together a small awareness swag bag to give to your legislator and their staff.
Create relationships with your legislator’s staffers
This is often a missed opportunity because we do not realize how integral these staff are. Nine times out of 10, the staff are the ones helping resolve issues in the community and are the direct line of communication for the legislator’s constituents.
Further, if a legislator were to resign, move into another government position, or in some cases they are not re-elected, some of their staff will be hired by the new government official. In some instances, when a legislator moves to a different government position, a few of their staff may also transfer with the legislator to support them in their new government office.
Creating a strong relationship with the staff can help open other doors or they can help connect you to the right people. Finally, many staff are the driving force behind policy and legislative advocacy. Some staff even help write legislative bills for Congressional Representatives and Senators. Therefore, cultivating relationships with staff is integral for successfully advocacy initiatives.
Send invites to events
If you or your organization is hosting a community wellness, awareness, or resource event, reach out to your local, state, and federal legislators and invite them to your event. Further, many state and federal legislators have staff assigned to oversee issues affecting different groups of people within their district such as Veterans, Senior Citizens, and people with Disabilities.
If you are hosting an event, inquire if any of the staff would like to participate in your event to provide information on how their legislator can assist people in these groups. Example: As a Disabled Army Veteran, I would ask if the staff assigned to oversee Veteran Issues and Social Security Disability Benefits, would be interested in participating in my event, so they can outreach constituents who may need assistance with a federal agency such as Social Security Administration or the Veteran Affairs, or need assistance with obtaining military records or military medals.
This is not only a great way to build relationships with legislators, but also a great form of community collaboration. Side note: Keep in mind that legislators and their staff schedules fill up quickly. If you would like to include these individuals at your community event, you should give at least 4-week notice, but 6-8 weeks would be more sufficient notice.
Send follow ups
If you meet with the staff or legislators, whether virtually, or at your State or Nation’s Capital, always follow up with an email or a written thank you note. In this form of correspondence, simply thank them for taking time out of their schedule to discuss your advocacy efforts and you look forward to partnering with them in the future to address the needs of your community and fellow constituents. In the event you are advocating, let’s say for funding to be appropriated for research on a medical condition, keep in touch with your legislators and their staff, to provide any updates on progress made with your advocacy efforts.
Remember that your government officials and their staff are people too!
When engaging in Legislative Advocacy, be yourself, but most importantly, cultivate a human connection with all the government officials you meet and their staff. At the end of the day, we are all working towards the same goals, improving the lives of those we serve!
I hope everyone finds these tips helpful and I wish you all the best of advocacy success! Legislative Advocacy is not always easy but with passion, determination, and hope we can accomplish anything!
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