TXLA Conference update – Advocacy Tips!

The TXLA conference in Austin last week provided a plethora of learning opportunities for librarians!  I’ll be sharing a few notes over the next two blog posts.

First off, I attended a paid preconference – “Use Your Library Voice: Personalizing Advocacy”.  This preconference has the unusual opportunity when the conference is in Austin of taking the attendees to the capitol to actually lobby their legislators at the end of the day.  (While I was unable to do that, I did catch part of the preconference).

The session provided a real treat to hear Seth Turner, a guest speaker from the Congressional Management Foundation, an organization that helps manage a functioning Congress. (I was unaware this organization even existed, so hearing how they work with Congress was illuminating!) The foundation works “directly with Members of Congress and staff to enhance their operations and interactions with constituents. CMF works directly with citizen groups to educate them on how Congress works, giving constituents a stronger voice in policy outcomes.”

Turner spent time outlining what the life of a Congressperson is like, from the long hours to the exploding volume of email, to the fact that their staffing ratio was set in 1974 and hasn’t increased since then.  All of which is to say – if you want to get “through” to your Congressperson, you have to seek impactful ways to do that.

What’s the best way to impact your Congressperson, according to surveys conducting by the CMF?  What does influence their decisions?

Form email  3%
Visit w/lobbyist 8%
Individualized email messages  30%
Contacts from Constituents’ representatives 46% (someone who knows part of a larger community)
In person visits from constituents 54%

Obviously, we can’t all make in person visits, but individualized emails have much greater impact than form emails, for example.  Form emails do little good at all.  Phone calls can be effective if you can get past the initial person answering the phone and ask for a legislative aide who is in charge of a particular issue.

Turner suggests building a relationship with the office – either by phone, mail, or in person.  He also mentions that contacting your local area office might be more effective than a D.C. office, because typically a state director has a longer tenure than other staff, and so that relationship can pay off for longer.

Who to get to know?

Chief of Staff 23%
Scheduler 25%
Get to know the STATE director 62%  (tenure is about 11 years)
Legislative assistant  79%  who has jurisdiction over your issue

When trying to build a relationship, there are some helpful reminders:

  1. Business cards: Don’t leave without theirs (so you can get their direct email) and if you’ve met with them, it’s personal
  2. Keep emails short and concise with a bullet point, signature.
  3. Subject line important – make it something they will open and searchable.
  4. Think about how the email looks on a mobile device.
  5. Right information at the right time.  What is on the agenda right now?
  6. Say thank you and not just when angry.
  7. Nights and weekends are good times to send an email.
  8. Also, mine your acquaintances — do you know anyone who knows someone in Congress or in their office?

He shared that 80% of people who meet with Congress are not prepared; only 78% are partly prepared.

Develop a profile of your legislators interests — what are their causes, what legislation have they sponsored, what committees are they assigned to, and what schools did they attend?  Use this knowledge to help make connections with them.

Know what legislators need to know:

  1. What action do you want them to take?
  2. What impacts will it have (numbers, maps)?
  3. What are personal stories that relate to this cause? (he reminded us of the deep impact of stories).

Remember the elements of a story (but to keep it short and to the point):

7 elements of a story

  1. Begin with end in mind(what is relevant to the goal).
  2. Set the stage (what are the stakes; context).
  3. Paint the pictures (details-visual, “on the scene” details).
  4. Describe the fight – the struggles (that might be the result of legislation that person could change).
  5. Include a surprise (teaching opportunity- Luke Skywalker / Darth Vader).
  6. Introduce the potential for success and joy- invite lawmaker to be part of winning team.
  7. Finish with a hook (catchy).

(This reminds me to recommend Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick which elaborates on how to tell a story that sticks.)

Lastly, follow up! Don’t neglect extending the connection you made.

  1. Before a meeting, block time on calendar for followup.
  2. Recruit a colleague to be the details person.
  3. Plan thank you communications in advance (email and social media?)
  4. Consider how to get staff to ask about some document you are carrying, “Can you send me that?” — make the report look well loved and refer to it.  Can I get a copy of that? results in a followup connection that helps build your relationship.

Turner’s insights into advocacy were very helpful and based on research their group does about Congress or by interviewing Congressional staff. It was fascinating how their perceptions of their work and the general public’s perception differ, so his session was very illuminating.

While these don’t all apply to lobbying at the state level, most of them do, and some tips could even carry over to working within your own district.

For more info, you can follow the Congressional Management office on Twitter @congressFDN.





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