In an ideal world, the policies that get passed would be those that are most needed, fair, and effective. Yet, policy solutions proven to benefit communities often go ignored. So what does it take to get a policy passed? It starts with a strong communication plan.
1. Find common ground.
An online search can help you find out what your elected officials care about. Is it health? Children? Fiscal or personal responsibility? When introducing your cause, connect it to one of their core values. First impressions stick, so cultivate a sense that you are in agreement from the start.
2. State your vision.
Help your elected officials imagine a better future. What larger goal does your request work toward? Think big. For example, if advocating for free or reduced price school meal programs, you might share a vision of a future where no child goes hungry. Some of the most iconic and influential speeches have been built around a vision. Consider Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech, “I Have a Dream." King repeatedly described what is today vs. what could be tomorrow, inspiring landmark legislation and future generations.
3. Keep it short.
Too many words can dilute your message. Elected officials hear about a wide range of issues every day. Your challenge is to cut through the clutter—not add to it. If you’re lucky, they’ll remember 2–3 points. Take time to identify your key messages, and make them the focus. Any additional information (e.g., stories, data) should support those key messages.
4. Share stories.
Personal stories elicit empathy. Think about the types of stories that illustrate the problem you see, the solution you want, or both. Find people willing to share their experiences. Sometimes a person’s story is so powerful that legislation is even named after them. For example, Ryan White—a teenager who was diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s—used his story to advocate for people with HIV. Today, his name is in the title of legislation and programs that fund life-saving health services.
5. Use data.
How widespread is the problem you want to address? What evidence supports your proposed solution? Once you have the data you need, make it tangible. For example:
- Convert percentages to “1 in” statements. “1 in 5 high school students uses tobacco" is more memorable than “20.2% of high school students reported current use of some type of tobacco product.”
- Convert annual statistics to “every day” statements by dividing by 365. Rather than share that approximately 41,975 people died of an opioid overdose last year in the U.S., you could say 115 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day. Smaller numbers make it easier for your audience visualize and empathize with the people behind the data.
6. Make a clear request.
What do you want your elected officials to do? Introduce new legislation? Vote yes? Increase funding? They will only know what you want if you say it.
Practicing in front of friends or colleagues is a great way to get feedback and get comfortable. Was your message compelling? What might make it even better? Make adjustments and continue to practice until you feel ready.
8. Build a relationship.
Policy change takes time. While the immediate goal is to deliver your message effectively, the long-term goal is to cultivate allies who will continue to support your cause down the road. There are some simple ways to do this: Be friendly. Listen. Show interest. Thank your elected officials for their time. Be respectful even when you disagree. Arguing is how you make enemies—not allies.
9. Ask questions.
Questions show you value your elected officials’ perspectives and give you a sense of where they stand. Be direct. You might ask: Can we count on your support? If not, what information would you need to give your support? What advice do you have for us?
10. Follow up.
Follow up communications keep your issue on the radar. Consider emails, letters, cards, and tweets. Be sure to thank them and respond to any requests for additional information.
© 2018 Civic Communications, LLC