Suzanne Smith, founder of Changemaker Interactive and author of Social TrendSpotter, a must-read blog on the latest trends in the social sector, answers your most frequently asked questions.
Each spring we head to city halls, state capitals and Washington, D.C., to advocate for those we serve. Advocacy isn’t something that comes easily to everyone. I come from a long line of unsung heroes who served as teachers and counselors. I lovingly call them “social soldiers.” They put their heads down and got the work done, never seeking the credit. While I always admired their dedication and aspired to be like them, I realized you do not often get noticed by policymakers this way. We need to use our voice. Our clients – those who are homeless, refugees, veterans, or children and animals – often do not have a voice and need us to speak for them. This means we have to work past our humility and speak up to help them get what they need. But, taking a seat at the proverbial table requires a little preparation.
Advocates often spend time quizzing themselves on specific policy positions for their meetings with policymakers, but sometimes forget the human side of the interaction. Whether communicating to a policymaker or a donor, advocates must be strategic about how they influence others to their side. Meetings are not just information exchanges – they are also “relationship-building” sessions. Establishing these relationships enables your advocacy efforts to take root and make a difference for those you serve.
To that end, based on research and best practices, we have developed the Five C’s of an Effective Policymaker Meeting:
- Compelling – Tell a story to help illustrate your point. Everyone responds to a story and research has shown that stories increase message retention.
- Clarity – Be focused and clear. Often, advocates, especially those who are experts, want to share everything they know in the first meeting. But, this is not the time to impress your audience with the breadth of your knowledge. Be restrained in what you share – summarize the high points and strive for a two-way conversation.
- Consistency – Do your homework on meeting participants. Policymakers like to be consistent, so connect to their interests, including past decisions or common interests.
- Conversation – Allow for dialogue. Creating an opportunity for a two-way conversation will allow for questions and clarifications, which lead to greater buy-in.
- Close – End the meeting effectively by including a direct request. Never let an opportunity pass to ask for support – for dollars, for a tour or for policy change.
As you plan your advocacy meetings, remember to start small and build a solid foundation for a long-term, mutually-beneficial relationship with policymakers. If you have any additional tips, we would love to hear them!