How Do I Advocate for Policy Change?

For an overview of how a bill becomes law, there’s no better resource than this! Or, for a more detailed overview on the federal legislative process works, check out these videos. Each state’s legislative website can also explain how a bill becomes a law at the state level (take, for example, Washington or South Dakota).

While getting the results you want may be difficult, making the pitch for the policy change you want to see isn’t! In our own ways, we’re all advocates for something—whether it’s asking for that raise, trying to get into your school of choice or speaking up on behalf of our children. One way or another, we’re all advocates.

Don’t think so? Well, take a look at how easy it was for a seven-year old boy in Arkansas and a 10-year girl old in Utah to advocate for what they believe in.

Now that you realize just how easy it is to advocate, here are a few things to keep in mind in order to be as effective as possible.

  • Data and research are critical, as they help to make a concrete case to the public, the media and policymakers about the problem and the efficacy of the proposed solution. Moreover, for existing problems, it helps to have data to show the impact those problems have had on you or your community more broadly. In other words, reliable data and facts about the issue can help make the case for policy change, and are important in influencing and convincing policymakers on the need for change.

For state and local data on indicators of financial well-being, visit the Prosperity Now Scorecard!

  • Effective communications require the right messaging and framing, targeted to the right audiences. Effective messaging and framing can build awareness, change public perception and move people to action. Importantly, those messages should target the individuals you are trying to persuade by considering their motivations. For example, if a lawmaker in your community is an avid supporter of creating a balanced budget, they may not be eager to fund a costly workforce development program. What can you say to this lawmaker that appeals to them, even if they are hesitant to approve legislation that would cost taxpayers more money?

Of course, lawmakers are always motivated by the need to represent their constituents, so when we advocate for public policies that improve communities, it is important to emphasize stories from your clients about the impact your programs have had on those clients’ lives. In fact, telling your story is easy and effective, and has the potential to engage elected officials and the public on a deeper level. See how Statewide Poverty Action Network tells client stories when advocating for TANF supports.

Looking for some basic communications tools to help frame your messages? Here are some Tips for Writing and Placing Op-eds and How to Get Your Op-Ed Published. You can also learn how to effectively message your policy agenda in a way that moves people to action using Neighborhood Partnership’s values-based messaging or FrameWorks Institute’s Building a New Narrative on Human Services toolkit.

  • Educating and engaging policymakers is important even when you don’t have a specific ask. Educating your lawmakers is the most direct opportunity you have to influence policy. It allows you to develop strong relationships and create policy champions who will advocate for the kinds of changes that benefit the people and communities you serve.

Have a story that’s worth telling, but aren’t sure where to start? Prosperity Now can help you interview a client, write up their story and share it with the world. Drop us a line at hello@prosperitynow.org to get started!

  • Building a strong, diverse and engaged partnership base will amplify your impact. You can be an effective advocate on your own, but if members of your networks and coalitions can sound a unified voice, your chances of success will multiply. By building relationships with your partners and identifying the ways in which your partnership can be mutually beneficial, you will be able to bring partners to the table to reinforce the messages you use to influence the policymaking process.

Highlighted below are commonly used advocacy strategies and examples of calls to action that can inform and influence future policymaking. Not all of these examples will be relevant to your advocacy efforts at any given time, but instead are meant to serve as starting points as you brainstorm strategies to strengthen your advocacy efforts.

Advocacy Strategies Calls to Action
Organize and mobilize your stakeholders (e.g., your coalition partners) to speak up, take action and advocate for change Invite policymakers to your site to learn about an issue or program
Educate legislators by providing them with data, research, stories and general information about key issues Meet with your member of Congress in person while they are at their in-district offices during congressional recess
Produce data and research that highlights pressing needs in your community Call your elected officials’ offices to weigh in on a legislative issue
Host educational conferences and trainings to gather, network and share information on policy priorities Share stories, data and resources with elected officials to illustrate the implications of their decisions
Educate the public about the legislative process, and/or introduce communities and constituencies to the legislators who represent them Participate in lobbying visits or hold advocacy days to advocate for or against specific legislation. (Note: 501(c)(3) public charities can engage in some lobbying; more information about the rules of nonprofit lobbying are here.)
Build public awareness by educating community members on relevant issues that impact them Draft a petition or sign-on letter to express views on an issue and ask coalition members to sign on
Organize a rally, town hall or press conference to build public awareness about an issue and to hold your policymaker accountable Write an op-ed or letter to the editor to share your expertise on an issue that recently became salient in your community
  Participate in a town hall and ask your elected officials questions about his/her policy positions
  Encourage citizens to vote (through nonpartisan voter mobilization efforts)
  Submit comments or feedback on regulations as they are being developed
  Use social media like Twitter and Facebook to educate the public and lawmakers about your issue. Don’t forget to tag them and include relevant hashtags!

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