The press release praising Congressman Rush Holt for signing on as a co-sponsor showed up in my inbox via “Google Alerts” because of the mention of POPVOX (the company I co-founded with Rachna Choudhry to help bring the “Voice of the People” to Congress.) When I clicked through to read the full release, I was blown away.
The press release was not particularly novel — no screaming headlines or inflammatory language. In fact, it was the simplicity and respectful tone that caught my eye. The advocacy effort it described was, to me as a former Congressional staffer, a shining example of genuine grassroots advocacy and an excellent model for others to learn from. These were my takeaways:
1) Outreach from a constituent. The New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome found individuals within the Member’s district to be the spokesperson on the issue.
2) A compelling personal story. There is no better way to convince a staffer or legislator of the importance of your issue than to introduce them to someone who is personally affected.
3) In-person visit to the Member’s office. Visits to the district office are helpful. When possible, a fly-in to the Washington office can also be extremely effective. In many cases, the Washington visit by a constituent will give an opportunity for face-time with the Member, and the staffer who handles the issue and can make recommendations.
4) Sharing the facts. Even with the compelling personal story, the facts are crucial. Explain costs, how many are impacted, economic impacts, etc. This is best done in a ONE-pager. (And we hope you will share your organization’s position on the bill on POPVOX.)
5) A concrete ask – “Please co-sponsor this bill.” You can have the greatest story in the world … but if you go to Washington without an “ask,” it was probably a wasted trip. The most common asks are that a Member take one of several actions:
—> Introduce a bill
—> Become an “original co-sponsor” of a bill that will soon be introduced
—> Co-sponsor a bill that has already been introduced
—> “Sign-on” to a letter to the Administration, Leadership, a Committee Chairman/woman
6) A rallying call. The outreach from NJCTS provided others with a way to get involved : “To register your support for H.R. 3760, please visit www.popvox.com/bills/us/112/hr3760.”
7) A thank-you. One of the most effective aspects of this press release is that it praises the Member for his support. Very often, advocacy campaigns focus on the ask (and hammering people who disagree) without much thought to what comes after. A thank you says “I noticed,” “I’m paying attention” (and, quite frankly, that “I will remember this when I go to vote in November.”)
Organizations such as NJCTS start their advocacy efforts with a great advantage in that your volunteers and members are personally affected by the issue and care deeply. When that is genuinely shared with Congressional staff and Members, there is great potential for a connection to be made.
This does not mean that every Member will co-sponsor the bill or that your desired legislation will become law — some Members may be completely moved by the issue but disagree with the proposed legislative approach. The personal, respectful tone, however, means that even if Members or staffers disagree with the approach at the moment, you are building relationships, connections and allies for the future.
Your advocacy efforts demonstrate an understanding of that “long game.” I commend your approach and our entire team thanks you for choosing POPVOX to get your message to Congress.
NOTE: POPVOX is neutral. When we highlight a bill or an advocacy campaign, we are not indicating support or opposition. Marci Harris is the co-founder and CEO of POPVOX.