How To’s of Advocacy
Send an email to your member of Congress
Sending an email is a great way to get in touch with your member of Congress, providing an easy way for you to express your thoughts and concerns regarding various issues at the state and federal level. It also allows you to become more familiar with how to research your member of congress as well as build your courage as an advocate.
In your e-mail, make sure you engage your audience, state the problem, inform about solutions and give a call to action!
Get involved on social media
Candidates and office holders now use social media as a primary communications tool, allowing constituents to ask them direct questions. These platforms can be used instead of or in addition to another method of contact.
Make a phone call to your member of Congress
Calling your member of Congress will help create a stronger relationship with your legislator and his or her office staff. This is a more personal form of advocacy and can be more effective.
Tips for a good phone call:
- Determine the reason for your call. Use your first call as a way to receive information or offer a thank you.
- Research and try to find a place of connection with your legislator.
- Script your call. Make what you say personal by adding a story about someone you know to the issue you’re discussing.
- Practice! Run through the conversation out loud.
Write your member of Congress
Members of Congress need to hear from their constituents. They depend on you to educate them about what is happening in their district or state and what legislation is most important to their constituents. Writing a letter ensures that the people who make decisions on your behalf every day know how you want to be represented. Introduce yourself and share why you care about the issue. Request a reply, and include all of your contact information.
Ask a question at a town hall meeting or other public venue
Going to an event where a member of Congress or candidate is speaking provides an excellent opportunity to thank him or her in public, make a particular request, or encourage stronger leadership on one of our issues. It is also a way to get the elected official or candidate to take a stand or create a platform on our issues when he or she might not otherwise pay attention to them. By presenting carefully prepared and powerful questions, you have the chance to influence members of Congress as well as educate the community in the room.
Tips on attending a town hall:
- Prepare questions ahead of time. Click here for sample questions.
- Work in teams. If you aren’t called on to ask your question, your teammate’s might. Or he or she could ask a follow-up question if yours gets answered.
- Identify yourself, stay polite and remain focused.
- Follow up.
Arrange a site visit for your member of Congress
Schedule a visit for members of Congress in areas or at programs which serve children and families. These visits show them just how important these programs are to people in their constituency. These visits can make the difference in securing support for campaign priorities.
Tips for setting up a site visit:
- Choose a site that can illustrate the issue/campaign on which you’re focusing.
- Contact your chosen site, propose a site visit, and negotiate two or three potential visit dates.
- Contact your legislator’s scheduler by letter with the request to accompany you to your site.
- Offer to provide background information on the target issue, on the site to be visited and the learning goals ofthe visit.
- Confirm the visit with both the site and the member’s office a week beforehand and again the day before.
- Plan to be at the site early and help greet the member of Congress when he/she arrives.
- Thank the legislator and accompanying staff for their time and offer to schedule a de-brief session.
- Thank the site for their hospitality.
Write a letter to the editor
Tips on generating a letter to the editor:
- Be current.
- Construct your letter.
- Be clear and concise.
- Connect the dots between your community and the state or federal issue you’re addressing.
- Be challenging.
- Mention members of Congress by name.
- Provide a Call to Action.
- Include your contact information.
- Coordinate your efforts.
If your letter gets published, send a copy to your Congressional offices and to us!
Sample Letters to the Editor
We owe it to the children to take voting seriously
As the election draws closer, we voters cannot afford to be disheartened by the political process. We need to do our part and become an informed and educated electorate.
We need to show up to the polls in November and vote for representatives strongly committed to causes that matter most to us, and especially to represent those who do not have a voice, Nevada’s children.
The children need our help. Nevada has one of the worst high school graduation rates in the country. If you want to help improve graduation rates, contact the candidates and ask what they plan to do to provide high-quality education to our children, and then hold them accountable for bringing those plans to fruition.
We have the opportunity to elect representatives — regardless of party affiliation — who will fight for children, families and communities of this state, and we have a responsibility to do so.
The writer is assistant coordinator of the Northern Nevada region of Every Child Matters, a national nonpartisan group seeking to make children and families a political priority.
The organization I work for, Every Child Matters, is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization focusing on children’s issues. We believe that every child needs to have positive outcomes in life, and the Federal and State budgets must support programs that will lead to this.
My boss asked me what the New Hampshire budget does that is positive for children. After much consideration, I put together this list:
- Many children will have the opportunity to buy their fast food hamburgers and fries at a discounted price, because that is where they will be working since tuition in any of the University System of NH colleges will be outof their reach.
- Many of New Hampshire’s children will make many new friends as they are forced to change schools at least once, if not more often, because their parents can no longer afford rent or mortgage.
- Some New Hampshire kids will get to continuously experience the fun of camping, as tents will replace bedrooms for them.
- A lot of kids won’t have to worry about those scary visits to the dentist or getting shots at the doctor’s office, as they may no longer be eligible for NH Healthy Kids.
— Those yucky, healthy fresh vegetables like broccoli and spinach will not be on their plates for dinner, as parents have to make their food stamps go further by buying less costly foods.
- Some of New Hampshire’s children at risk will end up with 3 square meals a day, a cot to sleep on, and a 30 cent an hour job in the state prison because the CHINS funding was cut.
- Many school-age children will find they now have plenty of time to tend to their crops in Farmville, because their parents can no longer afford their after-school program.
- Lots of preschool kids will know the songs in every Nickelodeon show, because they will be watching TV instead of playing at the child care center with their friends due to the cuts in child care assistance.
This budget will have consequences for every person in the State, from higher health insurance premiums as the hospitals need to replace lost funding streams, to higher property taxes as costs for services that the state once helped to fund downshift to cities and towns.
There are so many cuts in this budget that will adversely affect children and families directly and others that will impact them in less obvious but still harmful ways.
If children are the future, why have our legislators turned their backs on them?
Write or generate an op-ed
Advocates with access to up-to-date, accurate information on our issues are perfect candidates for writing a powerful op-ed or for generating an opinion piece signed by a member of Congress or influential community member.
- Check the editorial page or the paper’s website for instructions on submitting an op-ed.
- Try composing your op-ed using the same format you would use for a letter to the editor.
- Get in touch with how you personally feel about the issue and feel free to use personal examples, relating your message to your own experiences.
- It’s often helpful to open with a story or anecdotes and then circle back around to it by referencing it at the end.
- Make sure there is a call to action for your members of Congress and/or your readers. An op-ed is a prominent piece that will be read my many people; use this opportunity to be bold in what you want.
- Make your piece current and relevant; relate to something that is happening now.
Sample Op Ed
Iowa Caucus: Where do presidential candidates stand on children’s issues?
When caucus goers participate in Iowa’s First in the Nation Presidential selection process, many have as a foremost policy concern what the next president will do to produce a bright future for the next generation. A July Iowa voter survey, conducted by Selzer & Company, showed that Iowa voters care deeply about children and rank children’s issues at the top of their policy concerns.
Unfortunately, the first 10 presidential candidate debates have given no attention to child policy concerns. Of the 501 questions asked by the media moderators of the debates, not one has been about children’s health, safety, early learning, economic security or pre-college education. Candidate websites shed only a little more light. Elevenof the 14 official websites of the major party candidates do have issue or position or goal statements on education, but there is only one among the 14 with a statement on early childhood, only one on child hunger, and only one on infant mortality — and none on child welfare, juvenile justice or child poverty (and none on poverty overall). Although one-quarter of the population, children are less likely than seniors, veterans, small businesspersons, farmers and gun owners to be the focus of specific policy attention on the websites.
At the same time, the federal government and the next president have major responsibilities in child health, child safety, early childhood, K-12 education and child economic security. While states and communities make many ofthe decisions in these areas, the federal government is a partner on each and contributes over one-third of total funding to address these issues.
Fortunately, thanks to the Children’s Policy Coalition, the Child and Family Policy Center, and Every Child Matters, there is some information for voters on child policy issues and on where candidates stand on key issues. The Children’s Policy Coalition includes over 40 Iowa organizations seeking to elevate child policy issues to prominence. The website includes candidate responses (unedited) to six child policy issues, an overview of eachof these issues, the voter opinion survey, and an analysis of presidential debate questions and candidate websites.
The Every Child Matters Education Fund has created a “Digital Dialogue” that includes statements and positions taken by candidates on children’s issues, some of which have been the result of ECM and Child Policy Coalition staff and members raising these issues on campaign stops in Iowa.
It may be that the media assumes there is no controversy or difference of opinion on child policy, but this is not true. All candidates care about children and the future; but their approaches are not the same. It only will be through raising child policy issues that public dialogue will occur, different approaches will be aired and vetted, some consensus for action will be established, and political will to take that action will be secured.
- Charles Bruner, of Ames, is founder and former director of the Child and Family Policy Center and a former Iowa State Senator.
Host a table in your community
This can be a fun way to educate members of your community and get information out on issues regarding the wellbeing of children and families. This is a very non-threatening way for organizations and programs to provide people with information on what they do and answer any questions community members may have.
Where to set up a table:
- Volunteer Fairs
- Community Expos
Organize a letter writing meeting in your community
Letter-writing meetings are a great way to engage people in advocacy that is quick, easy, and effective. It gives people the opportunity to learn about and take action on an issue in a friendly casual setting. Determine your topic and goal for your work: do you want to speak to a member of Congress, to the media, or even to the Administration?Provide plenty of the action sheets you’ll be using, paper and pens, envelopes and stamps and address of the DC office of your chosen legislator.
Speak to a local community group
A great advocacy tool is your own voice. Make a presentation about your organization or an issue regarding the wellbeing of children and families. Make sure to Identify an audience that shares an interest in your issues and the work you do.
Host a successful outreach meeting
By providing the opportunity for others to learn about programs and services from which they benefit, you not only strengthen your work in advocacy, you provide an effective and successful outlet for others who want to make a difference but are not sure how. Once you’ve created a guest list, maximize the effect of your meeting by:
- Designating a point person to arrange your logistics (location, locking/unlocking of facility, technology needs, building signage)
- Assigning responsibility for hospitality food and drink helps make everyone feel welcome!
- Having a sign-in sheet for attendees.
- Be up front at the start of your meeting about your purpose –getting new advocates.
- Weave a personal story to underscore how powerful your program is and what their participation could mean for children and families.
- Use strong, relevant quotes from people whose name or position is familiar to the audience.
- Make the most of it: Celebrate the new people who sign up or donate and have clear next steps for those who are getting involved. (Have your next meeting scheduled or give enough time to do schedule it before people leave your event.)