Guest columnist Susan Reis is state policy advocate of Ohio for the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). In her capacity, she helps the membership of NCJW reach out to legislators to help communicate their position on issues.
With an increasingly divided nation and differing opinions on the best way to make our country better, we have all become advocates for some issue.
While getting the results we want might be difficult, making the pitch for policy changes to legislators doesn’t have to be.
As the co-state policy advocate of Ohio for the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), part of my role is to arrange visits with legislators to build relationships and lobby on behalf of the issues we care about.
When members of our organization meet with legislators for the first time, they sometimes feel nervous or anxious.
But, as I tell them, our job as constituents is to let legislators know about the issues we care about. Representatives want to hear from their constituents. Legislators are elected to represent us, and our stories provide them with a currency and an understanding of the issues facing their communities.
Even when you disagree on a subject or the way to approach an issue, there is power in getting your voice heard and having a conversation with someone other than your great-uncle on Facebook.
Here are my top six tips for effective legislative visits:
Come prepared: The first time you think about the points you want to address at the meeting shouldn’t be in the legislator’s office. Practice your presentation beforehand and consider bringing sheets with information you want the legislator to know. When you’re in the meeting, lead with your most pressing points and keep your arguments concise.
Get personal: Don’t come loaded down with statistics. People respond to — and remember — stories more than facts. Effective advocacy appeals to the heart, head and political health of the legislator. If you don’t have a personal story, see if anyone else in your life or organization does. The value comes in the sharing of the story, not necessarily who the narrator is.
Have a specific ask: Conversation and relationship building are important. But in order to make the meeting with your legislator most effective, be specific about what you would like him or her to do, whether it is to vote for or against a specific bill or co-sponsor legislation introduced by someone else in the chamber.
Give the legislator time to speak: When you feel passionate about an issue, it is easy to take up all the allotted time advocating for it. Just as important in effective lobbying is understanding your legislator’s take on the issue. Any personal information they provide can be helpful for follow-up lobbying efforts.
Follow up: After the meeting, be sure to send a follow-up note or email thanking the legislator for their time and reiterating the issue and request. If you are sending the note electronically, it’s helpful to send electronic links to reliable online information that they can refer back to.
Keep building the relationships: If you see that your legislator is hosting a town meeting or attending a public event, show up. If you see an article that you think they would be interested in, tag them on Twitter.
Remember: Relationships are built over time and take time to foster. Reaching out and scheduling a legislative visit is an important first step!