Prepare for Public Policy Impact
Some issues may require legislative action. Others may just need an outcry of pressure from providers and/or families and care receivers to government workers. Regardless, your association members can and should speak up for change!
The words ‘lobby’ and ‘advocacy’ scare many people, but nonprofits can and should lobby! Lobbying is one subset of advocacy referring to when a specific bill has been officially introduced. By NOT lobbying, many organizations are not fully exercising their rights under federal tax laws. The amount of lobbying a nonprofit organization can engage in depends on how the nonprofit is classified.
In order to make a difference for your cause, you must gather information and prepare to educate others:
- Identify the issue. What is “the issue”? What are the arguments that could be raised by your opponents? What do you expect to happen as a result of your action? Define the issue in simple terms so that people who are not involved in the adult day services business can understand. Gather and record facts related to the issue(s)—rules/laws, statistics that can be supported, but address each issue separately. Providing relevant facts, figures and background information helps others understand the issues. By providing reliable data, your organization builds trust and fosters opportunities for policymakers to eventually depend on you for facts.
- Study the process. How is the issue currently addressed in current rules or legislation—or is it? Understanding the process of how the issue is addressed in the law is critical in determining the course of action. For example, some issues might only require policy changes and responses by government workers, whereas others require legislative action. In some cases if government workers are not responsive to your attempts to address the issues, seeking legislative action to “give government workers a gentle nudge” may be the most effective way to ensure positive results.
- Determine the target audience. Depending on the scope of the issue, it may be necessary to reach out to officials locally, regionally and/or nationally. Who has authority to change the rules? Research the interests of elected officials to find out if they have professional or personal ties to your cause. Gather complete contact information for entry into a database to be used for future correspondence.
- Look for allies. Numbers are power, so it is important to have as many people as possible speak out to policymakers about your issue. Take stock of your human resources. Identify groups that might work on similar public policy matters and exchange information about issues for support, and attend community meetings to send a strong signal that your organization is interested in working together on similar public policy issues. The larger and more diverse your support, the greater your chance of being heard and taken seriously.
Become More Visible
- Craft compelling messages. Draft a few sentences or key points about the message you want your supporters to convey to decision-makers or the media. Create a sense of urgency in the message, and give the issue “a face” and not just numerical statistics. When possible, tell the audience something new or fresh about the issue. Pictures are much more memorable than words. Proofread all correspondence and fact sheets. Use your organization’s website to advance change.
- Meet your legislators. Reach out to legislators and their staff. Getting to know people on a personal level helps to assure that your letters, emails and phone calls will get personal attention. Make an appointment in advance if you plan to visit, and send a follow up letter of thanks promptly.
- Take action. Learn when government agencies and legislators meet, and the rules that govern the meetings so you can monitor the meetings and impact the decisions at the appropriate time. Presence can be powerful—be there! If it is a public hearing, the audience will likely be limited to a minute or two per person to speak. Choose your words carefully, but invite fellow providers, family caregivers and participants to speak, echoing the message you give.
- If you are invited to give formal testimony for a meeting, prepare copies of your remarks for the committee members and be prepared to answer questions. Feel free to give copies of fuller position papers or policy briefs that provide more information than time allows during your presentation.
- Engage the media. Use the news media to shape the way the public views your issue. Emphasize an issue of the adult day services industry for the public agenda to serve the greatest good, not narrowly limiting to an individual organization. Begin by writing a letter to the editor of the newspaper linking a pending issue and its affect on your cause.
Increase and Sustain Your Advocacy
- Distribute information packets. Create a packet of information including facts about adult day services, information about your organization, its mission and services, and the public policy agenda. Include a copy of a news article about the center and/or participants or family caregivers if the packet is being sent to a legislator. Include a personal note addressing the purpose of the correspondence—keeping them informed, looking forward to a visit, invitation to visit the center, etc.
- Share the love. Write a letter of congratulations to elected officials when they act in a helpful way to advance your cause. Thank every person who volunteered time or money to help your public policy efforts. Public recognition, whether formal or informal, should be well received.
- Initiate grassroots support. Write action alerts to volunteers, donors, participants, family members, board members, and other supporters urging them to contact their elected representatives about policies and pending legislation affecting your cause. Encourage them to help spread the word to their friends and family. Provide them with talking points and information to make it easy for them to get in touch with their legislators.
- Evaluate the results. Be prepared to revise your goals and plans. Have a fallback plan, and do not give up.
- Invite! Invite! Invite! Always extend an invitation to the audience (even an audience of one) to visit the center to get a firsthand view of the service.
NADSA members can access sample documents in the Library to support their advocacy efforts.