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Tips No Advocate Should Forget
Always be polite.
This is all about creating relationships – and you do not want people running away when they see you coming next time. Do you expect people to listen to you or give you money if you are angry and rude to them?
Say thank you.
Even nice people forget to say thank you. It only takes a minute. You can send a note, an email, or make a call - just do something. Not only thank the policymaker you met with or who voted your way, but also the staffer who set up the meeting or gave you a heads up that your issue was in trouble. Staffers never get thanked - they really appreciate it. And they run the system - Never forget that.
Get your story straight.
Be prepared. You don't have to do a lot of research. Just your story is fine, but think through what you are going to say. Practice on a friend if that helps. Have someone gentle proofread your letter. You may not have a lot of time in a meeting and many readers won't go past the first paragraph or two of a letter. If you can make a fact sheet or include one from an organization, that is great. Make sure you include your contact information - name, organization you are representing (if any), address, phone, and email (if you have one). Don't assume that the envelope with your return address will stay with the letter.
NEVER, EVER make up an answer.
"I don't know" is a perfectly acceptable answer. "I'll find out and get back to you" is even better. Don't wing it. If you're not sure, say so. If you find out later that you made a mistake or things changed, and something you said isn't true, call them right away and fess up. They will understand. Mislead someone just once and you have damaged your reputation forever. Policymakers have to rely on the information they are given. This is all about creating relationships - you want to be a trusted source.
Trust your champion.
Find a champion for your cause (it can be a legislator, a staffer, someone at an agency, an organization, a lobbyist, another advocate, whoever). Then trust them, do what they tell you to do. The legislative process is complex, regulatory processes are even worse. The rules change all the time - trust the professionals.
Understand that things take time. It SHOULD be hard to pass a bill or change the system. Laws are there for a reason. Be patient and don't burn any bridges.
Understand that everyone wants what they want.
While your issue is your top priority, you need to understand that policymakers have to balance everyone's priorities.
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