Grassroots Advocacy

Introduction 

Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the U.S. House from Massachusetts, is famous for noting that “all politics is local.” No matter what the issue, elected officials at every level ultimately want and need to know what it means to their district and constituents, the people they represent, and how it will affect them. It is the sum and the balance of these “special interests” that legislators weigh in making their final decisions on what actions to take and how to vote.

No one individual, however intelligent and experienced, can know and appreciate every aspect of every issue. Instead, concerned and dedicated legislators look to the people in their communities who have hands-on knowledge and experience to provide critical information and perspectives--people like you. Rather than being an undesirable and negative influence, then, “special interests” are often a necessary, positive element of representative democracy, the seeds of the grassroots from which healthy public policy grows. Special interests are you, your neighbor, the postman, and the businesswoman across town - each of them, and all of us, have a special investment, a “special interest,” and a special role to play in the people’s government.

For this reason LeadingAge Massachusetts encourages our members to become active in the legislative process. We believe that not-for-profit providers can make a difference at the grassroots level by building relationships with their state and federal elected officials! Your work at the grassroots level is an important component to the success of LeadingAge Massachusetts' advocacy agenda.

LeadingAge Massachusetts has developed this Guide to Grassroots Advocacy to support our members in their efforts to build relationships with legislators and advocate for policies that support your ability to provide quality aging services. LeadingAge Massachusetts hopes this guide serves as a useful tool to help you to establish, maintain, and enhance your working relationship with those elected to represent your voice in government.

If you have any questions about this guide or would like any additional information on advocacy or the legislative process, contact Elissa Sherman at 617.244.2999 or at esherman@LeadingAgeMA.org.



Tips for Getting Started

If you have never communicated with one of your elected officials before, it can seem intimidating. Always keep in mind that you are an expert in the work that you do. You can provide your elected officials with the important information that they need to make decisions on legislation affecting aging services. If they don’t hear from you, they may be missing important information that could affect their vote on an issue.

Some Basic Information: 

Members of the Massachusetts General Court, also known as the legislature, are elected for two-year terms.

  • There are 160 members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
  • There are 40 members of the Massachusetts State Senate.
  • The Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts are elected for a term of four years.
  • Massachusetts has 10 Congressional Districts – each member of Congress is elected for a two-year term.
  • Like all states, Massachusetts has two U.S. Senators who are each elected for six-year terms.
  • To find out who your elected officials are, click Contact Your Legislator and go to My Elected Officials.
  • Important information on the Massachusetts legislative process, including lists and contact information for legislators, lists of legislative committees, information on how a bill becomes a law, text of legislation and text of current laws can be found on the web site of the General Court.

 

Making Your Voice Heard

There are various ways of communicating with your legislator.

Writing Letters
Letter writing is one of the most common ways to communicate with your legislators. Writing a letter provides an excellent opportunity for you to raise a specific issue or concern with a legislator and explain what the impact is on his or her constituents. Personally written letters (as opposed to mass or “canned” letters or postcards) are one of the most effective ways to get a legislator’s interest and response to a specific issue.

Here are some suggestions for writing effective letters:

  • Be sure you have the correct name (and spelling) of your senator or representative, and address all correspondence to them properly (see chart on page 12 of this guide).
  • Use organizational letterhead with your return address.
  • Letters should be clear and concise and no longer than one page. If writing to request support for a specific piece of legislation, you should indicate the subject, bill number, and title of the legislation.
  • Address only one issue per letter.
  • Be specific about what you are asking the legislator to do.
  • Provide a brief description of your organization including how many residents/clients, employees and volunteers your organization has.
  • Explain why you are personally involved with the issue and how the bill will affect you and/or your residents/clients and or staff.
  • The more personal the letter, the more likely the legislator will read it. Form letters do not capture the personal attention of legislators.
  • Express appreciation for any support that your legislator has provided in the past or for any recent speech, vote or action. Such an acknowledgement will indicate both your courteousness and your knowledge.
  • Never threaten or use abusive language. It will impair the credibility of your comments and create a negative feeling towards your position.
  • Offer to be a resource to the legislator for more information on this issue.
  • Include the fact that you are a LeadingAge Massachusetts member as well as a constituent.
  • Sign your letter.
  • Forward a copy to LeadingAge Massachusetts!

Calling Your Legislators
When LeadingAge Massachusetts alerts members to contact their legislators immediately about a pending vote, the best way to make a personal contact is by picking up the phone and placing a call.

Tips on Calling Your Legislators:

  • Identify yourself as a constituent and give the reason why you are calling. If your legislator is not available, you will likely speak with a legislative aide who will be able to relay your message on to the legislator.
  • Briefly explain your position on the issue or legislation and be prepared to state your reasons. Refer to the specific bill number (or amendment number/outside section/line item if within a budget bill) and be specific about what action you would like your legislator to take.
  • Explain why you are personally involved with the issue and how the bill will affect you and/or your residents/clients/staff.
  • Ask the legislator (or staff person) where he/she stands on the issue. If he or she has not yet formed a position, offer to provide additional information that may be helpful in learning more about the issue.
  • If you are unable to speak with your legislator or his or her legislative aide, leave your phone number and ask for someone to call you back. Be prepared for the phone call by having your background materials handy.
  • Thank the legislator or staff person for listening.
  • Remember to be courteous in your discussions with legislators.
  • Never threaten or use abusive language. It will impair the credibility of your comments and create a negative feeling towards your position. Legislators have been known to vote against an issue after receiving a rude phone call!
  • Provide feedback to LeadingAge Massachusetts!

Sending Email
Email is becoming an increasingly popular way for individuals to communicate with their legislators in a quick and efficient manner. However, legislators also become inundated with email messages and some respond better to that mode of communication than others. While placing a phone call is probably the best way to ensure that your request is received – following up with the legislator or staff by email is also helpful. When communicating by email, the same suggestions for writing effective letters apply.

LeadingAge Massachusetts has made it easy to contact your legislators: Contact Your Legislator.



Meeting with Your Legislator

While phone calls, letters and email are all important ways for you to communicate with your legislators, especially when you are asking for a member to vote a certain way on a pending bill, arranging for a personal visit will probably have the longest lasting impact.

Meeting personally with your legislators is an important step in building a relationship with him/her and his or her staff. When a legislator has a good understanding of the program/service that you are providing to constituents in his/her district, he/she will be likely to call on you in the future to learn how a specific bill would affect your program and those you serve. An important goal of meeting with your legislator is for you to become a known resource in the future. Remember that advocacy is an ongoing process. It is important to get to know your legislators before a crisis arises. If your legislator knows you and your program it is more likely that he/she will respond to your phone calls/letters and emails in the future.

Meeting with Your Legislator At His/Her Office
A personal visit with your Representative or Senator, at his/her office at the State House or in the district can be an exciting and rewarding experience. Following are some steps and tips to make such a visit most effective.

  • Make an appointment to see the legislator rather than just dropping into his or her office unannounced. When making an appointment, let the secretary or legislative aide know your concern and how much time to allow for the meeting. Remember to keep it as brief as possible – 10 to 30 minutes, maximum. It is also important that you don’t use more time than has been allotted. Abusing a busy legislator’s hospitality is not a good way to win favor.
  • If you are unable to meet with your legislator, take the opportunity to meet with a staff person. Often, the staff person is doing the leg work on legislative issues. Developing a relationship with key staff people can make a tremendous difference in your legislator’s response to your concerns.
  • It is usually best to visit the legislator with a small group—three people are optimum. With more than three people, a legislator may feel threatened, and your message can get muddled. One-on-one visits with legislators may be unsatisfactory because legislators may try to out-talk you, or you may reach an impasse too quickly. In a group, you can convey the impression that you are a representative of many others, if this is indeed true. If each of you represents a different organization, your potential voting power will maximize your lobbying impact.
  • When meeting with a legislator in a small group, it is especially important that there is still one clear message. Have at least one pre-meeting strategy session with your partners to get your stories straight. Let one person in the group be the primary speaker and contact person with the legislator but decide what each person in the group will be prepared to speak about.
  • If you are a constituent, introduce yourself as such to the legislator. If you voted for him or her, say so. If you have any family, social, business, or other ties to the legislator, don’t hesitate to mention them. This information will help the legislator remember who you are and better understand your perspective. However, don’t assume that any connection of this sort obliges the legislator to respond in your favor.
  • Be clear about your position and what you would like the legislator to do. When meeting on specific legislation, identify the bill by name and number whenever possible and have copies available.
  • Leave written material about your organization and any summaries or fact sheets about the issue for which you are seeking support. In addition to specific fact sheets, LeadingAge Massachusetts has information available on not-for-profit aging services that can be supplied to members for legislative visits.
  • Be firm in expressing your position, but don’t try to force a legislator into changing positions or making a commitment if he or she clearly does not want to do so.
  • Always be calm and courteous when dealing with legislators, and never resort to harsh or personal remarks. If you lose your temper or prevent a legislator from speaking, he or she will likely think of you as a fanatic and ignore your views.
  • Send a letter thanking the legislator for his/her time within a few days of the meeting. Summarize the issues discussed and include any additional information that you had promised to provide to the legislator. Offer to be a resource for further information.

Inviting Your Legislator to Your Organization
One of the most effective ways to deliver a message to legislators about the needs of aging service providers and recipients is to provide them the opportunity to observe first-hand what goes on in your community. LeadingAge Massachusetts members provide a much needed community service. Our communities are a place where voters receive care and a place where voters work. A tour of your community will open legislators’ eyes to the benefits of quality not-for-profit aging services. In addition it will help you build and cement relationships with legislators and position you as a trusted resource on questions regarding elder care issues.

Here are some suggestions for ensuring a successful visit:

  • Schedule a Meeting Well in Advance.  With commmittee hearings, formal sessions, meetings, and other related tasks, legislators' schedules are very hectic. So you may need to be flexible in order to accommodate the legislator's schedule. Friday's are generally days when legislators are in their disricts -- however -- they often have multiple meetings and events to attend on those days.  Call the legislator’s office and ask to speak to the staff person responsible for the legislator’s schedule. Inform the staff person that you would like to invite the legislator to visit your community to learn about the services your organization provides to constituents in the district and have an opportunity to meet with some of the staff, residents/clients and board members. You will probably be asked to submit an invitation in writing. At least one week prior to the event, send a letter to the legislator confirming the meeting. Confirm with the legislator’s staff a few days prior to the event to check and ask if there is any additional information the legislator may need at that point.
  • Plan Your Agenda.  Plan and rehearse a detailed agenda of what you want to cover. A visit may not last longer than 15 or 20 minutes and should not exceed one hour unless the legislator has time to stay longer. Remember, this is an opportunity to build a relationship with your legislator and to familiarize him/her with your community, its mission and its services. A goal should be that your legislator walks away from the visit viewing you as a credible information source on issues concerning aging and long term care.  In developing your agenda, consider the most important aspects of your organization that you wish to share with your legislator such as innovative programs you use and success stories of both residents who exceed expectations and staff who have performed above and beyond the call of duty. Consider how various public policy proposals will affect the programs/services you are sharing with the legislator and share that with them. (For example, if budget cuts will force you to eliminate special programs, first highlight the program and then point out it is in danger of being cut if the proposed budget cuts are approved.)
    Map out your tour ahead of time. Be very organized in the presentation of your center. Move from room to room pointing out specific information that would be informative to the legislator. Be very specific.
  • Provide written materials – Be prepared to give the legislator background materials about your community. LeadingAge Massachusetts also has materials on not-for-profit aging services that you can share with your legislator.
  • Inform staff, residents and Board members about the visit and determine who you would like to be present during your tour and discussion. If there are individuals that have a prior relationship with the legislator or staff, make sure that those individuals are present. Identify competent spokespersons that can accompany the legislator on the tour, and schedule time for the legislator to sit down and have an informal chat with residents/clients. Make this an exciting event in your community!
  • Make it a Photo Opportunity. Be sure and take pictures highlighting the visit. You will want to use the photos in a variety of ways … newsletters, bulletin boards, post-event media releases, etc. Also, you will want to include copies of the photos in your thank you note to the legislator, and please send a set of photos to LeadingAge Massachusetts.
  • Inform Your Local Papers of the Visit. After the visit, send a media release to your local newspaper relaying information about the legislator’s visit to your community. Be sure to include a copy of one or two photos with all people properly identified and all names and titles spelled correctly. You may include a suggested caption, but be aware that the publication will likely choose to write its own. Getting local media coverage provides great public relations for both your community and for your legislator.

Follow-Up with a Prompt Thank You Letter. Following the visit, write to the legislator thanking him/her (and any staff that attended) for coming to your community. Include copies of the photos that were taken during the visit. Review the names of people (both staff and residents) the legislator met with during the visit, summarize the issues that were discussed, specify what you are asking the legislator to do as follow-up, and reiterate your offer to be a resource for him/her on long-term care issues. Please send a copy of your letter to LeadingAge Massachusetts!

Opportunities to Invite Your Legislators to Your Community

  • Open Houses
  • Special Celebrations (commemorations/anniversaries/employee recognitions)
  • Community events such as picnics/fairs/fundraisers
  • Dedication ceremonies/ground breakings
    If you invite a legislator to attend one of these events it is helpful to assign someone to look out for the individual and make sure that he/she is publicly recognized and introduced. Be sure to have photos taken of any legislators present at the event for follow-up media releases and for your newsletter.

    If a legislator does attend one of these event, be sure to send a thank you note acknowledging your appreciation for their attendance at the event.

Get Your Entire Community Involved!!
Grassroots advocacy is most successful when legislators hear from numerous constituents about how they are personally affected on a given issue. For this reason, you should consider ways to get your staff, board, residents/clients, and family members involved in grassroots advocacy. When a bill is up for a vote that would impact your community, legislators will be most influenced if they hear from all of these various stakeholders.

Some tips for getting your entire community involved:

  • Pass along LeadingAge Massachusetts alerts to your staff, board and families which ask for members to contact their legislators to take specific action on bills affecting aging services.
  • Develop an “advocacy committee” composed of staff, board members and residents/clients that can be more involved with communicating with legislators on specific areas of concern for your community.
  • Identify board members, staff, residents/clients/family members that may have personal relationships with legislators. Please share this information with LeadingAge Massachusetts.

ADDRESSING PUBLIC OFFICIALS

OFFICE
OFFICIAL TITLE
WRITTEN SALUTATION
SPOKEN

President of the UnitedStates
The President
Dear Mr. (or Madam) President
Mr. (or) Madam President



Vice-President
The Vice President
Dear Mr. (or Madam) Vice-President
Mr. (or) Madam President



Cabinet Members(Federal or State)
The Honorable John (or Joan) Smith
Dear Mr. (or Madam) Secretary
Mr. (or Madam)Secretary



U.S. or State Senator
The Honorable John(or Joan) Smith
Dear Senator Smith
Senator Smith



U.S. or State Representative
The Honorable John (or Joan) Smith
Dear Representative (or Congressman/Congresswoman for U.S.) Smith
Representative (or Congressman/Congress-woman for U.S.)



Speaker of the House (Federal or State)
The Honorable John (or Joan) Smith
Dear Mr. (or Madam) Speaker
Mr. (or Madam) Speaker



President of the State Senate
The Honorable John (or Joan) Smith
Dear Mr. (or Madam) President
Mr. (or Madam) President



Governor
The Honorable John (or JJoan) Smith
Your Excellency or Dear Governor Smith
Governor Smith



Lt. Governor
The Honorable John (or Joan) Smith
Dear Lt. Governor Smith
Lt. Governor Smith



Attorney General
The Honorable John (or Joan) Smith
Dear Attorney General or General Smith
General Smith or Mr. (or Madam) Attorney General


Internet Resources


LeadingAge Massachusetts' Contact Your Legislator
Massachusetts General Court
United States House of Representatives
United State Senate

White House
THOMAS – Federal Legislation Search



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