Getting the Attention of Legislators
From time to time nonprofits need to get the attention of legislators, but doing that effectively requires planning and crafting the right message. Heres advice on how to do it from the legislators themselves.
The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network this past fall held a number of meetings across the state, during which legislators offered tips and advice on how to get their attention.
Two themes emerged: 1) Visiting legislators just when you want something is not sufficient. Its important to create an ongoing relationship; 2) Numbers and statistics are not enough. Its vital to put a human face on the issue and describe how it will impact the community beyond your nonprofit.
The following is a summary of key points the legislators offered.
Rep. Cleon Turner First Barnstable
Sen. Karen Spilka Second Middlesex and Norfolk
- Put a face on your ask.
- Dont rely on just numbers and statistics to make your case.
- Important to bring someone from your district when you visit your legislator.
- Know your legislators and the things that interests them.
- Its really important when sending correspondence not to one correspondence to the whole senate or whole committee. Personalize your correspondence, even if you are sending it to the whole committee. At the least individualize the greeting, and dont send a photocopied letter.
Rep. David Linsky Fifth Middlesex
- Relate the topic to my district.
- Dont hesitate to meet with one of my staff, as opposed to insisting on a meeting with me.
- Bring a one-page summary with you.
- Factor in the economic impact, not just the human impact.
Rep. Chris Walsh (elect) Sixth Middlesex
- Be a resource to me.
- Make it personal.
Rep. Tom Sannicandro Seventh Middlesex
- Dont wait until theres a problem to contact me.
- Explain impact on quality of life/community benefit in the region, not just your clients.
- Take advantage of my time NOW while Im still elect.
Rep. Alice Peisch Fourteenth Norfolk
- We retell stories among ourselves so a good story is worth a lot.
- Mobilize your members and do it well.
- Doesnt take a whole lot of letters to get my attention (five is great).
- Build the relationship.
Sen. James Eldridge Middlesex and Worcester
- Brevity is important: get to the point.
- Email is more effective than a phone call (a personal letter is also good).
Sen. Harriette Chandler First Worcester
- Its very powerful to see clients and board members through events.
- Get clients to write editorials.
- During a site visit, point out clients and activities, not just the building.
Rep. Steven DiNatale Third Worcester
- Put a face on your story.
- Bring in someone who benefitsnot just a constituentbring a client, a recipient of your program.
- Maintain the relationship ongoing make periodic visits.
- A quarter of the legislature is new, so make sure you establish relationships with legislators quickly.
Rep. John Fernandes Tenth Worcester
- Legislators have to make tough decisions. Its important to make a compelling case.
- Get as many as people as possible to contact your legislator.
- You need the facts and you need the personal face.
- Make it clear why your issue is important to the community as a whole, not just to your organization.
- Make your argument as follows: For every dollar you spend on this preventative program, youll save $X dealing with the problem later.
Rep. Harold Naughton, Jr. Twelfth Worcester
- The best way to convince me is through stories.
- I read my own emails.
- More credibility when it comes from a known advocacy group.
- Message has to come across about the impact of cuts.
- Use many different avenues to reach us, not just one.
Rep. William Pignatelli Fourth Berkshire
- Know who your legislator is; know your audience when you communicate with him.
- When you meet with a legislator, youre selling. Its important to be quick: make your message precise.
- Important to visit before the legislative session really gets underway form a relationship before you want something.
- Invite legislator to your nonprofit s program they need to see the service in action.
- If you want your legislator to write a letter to the chair of a legislative committee, write the letter for him. Legislators have no staff, so this makes it easier for them.
Rebecca Donham and Esther Hanig contributed to this article.
- Its important to talk about the economic impact of the work you do. Tell a personal story. Put a face on issue. Show impact of the funding.
- Overall, its important to visit your legislator: create a relationship when you dont need anything.
- Productive, short, and personal: this is how your meeting with legislator should be.