Step 1: Develop Relationships
The most important tools you can have in your “advocacy toolbox” are the relationships you create—with elected officials or state agency staff; your peers; or other non-profit organizations. Remember one of the answers to the question “What is Advocacy?” was “saying hello.” It’s important to have relationships with both elected officials and other stakeholders BEFORE you need to lobby an issue. It’s easier to lobby someone who’s familiar with your organization rather than having to explain who you are, what you do, AND why they should listen to you.
American College of Surgeons (ACS)
One of your most important relationships should be with the College’s Division of Advocacy and Health Policy. The State Affairs team is available to help with various aspects of grassroots advocacy.
Jon Sutton, MBA, State Affairs Manager, 202-672-1526, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Johnson, State Affairs Manager, 202-672-1502, email@example.com
Working with other state specialty societies and local state health organizations is a great way to combine strengths and reach more people. Attending their events and inviting them to yours all help to create solid working relationships. These organizations are more likely to be allies on surgical issues and it will pay off in the long run if these relationships are established early.
Doctor for a Day
A great way of starting relationships with the legislature is through the Doctor for a Day program. Each day the legislature is in session, a member agrees to be the Doctor for the Legislature and Staff of the Capitol. Many times, they are introduced on the chamber floor by a legislator and have an opportunity to check out the legislative process from the inside out.
Many chapters or state medical associations already have this program in place and are looking for volunteers. Certainly, if your state doesn’t have this type of program, it would be a great idea for the chapter to sponsor one. Some states divide up the months with each specialty society providing volunteers for their designated months.
Lobby Days or a Day at the Capital
More detail about lobby days may be found in the section on developing a legislative strategy. It is a good idea to have some kind of set event even when you don’t have any issues in front of the legislature. As a state senator from Illinois once said, “It’s nice to see someone who’s not asking for anything.”
Many State Senators and Representatives host various informational “fairs” in their communities. “Senior Health” and “Back to School” fairs are especially popular. They are always looking for participants, and offering to host a table is a short commitment with only a couple of volunteers. Local chambers of commerce or towns/cities have similar fairs or events, and chances are your State Senator or Representative will have a table there too—why shouldn’t you?
Also, state legislatures may host their own health fairs for elected officials and their staff. These are usually held in the Capitol building itself, and participants offer free screening and informational tables.
You may not be talking about legislative issues at these fairs, but you will be putting a face to your organization, and that is the first step in being a successful advocate.
Step 2: Monitor Legislation
How do you know what’s happening in the state legislature? Using the relationships you’ve so carefully built up is a start. But there are other ways to monitor legislation. Don’t always rely on one source (or person) telling you what’s important-their priorities may not be the same as yours.
State legislature websites contain a wealth of information about the legislative activities in a state. You can find out the process of how a bill becomes a law, who your state legislators are, obtain biographical information on each legislator, visit an individual legislator’s Web page, determine the status of specific bills, access state statutes, and so on. Most state legislatures have on-line bill tracking. While each state website has its own unique features, you can usually search by keywords in addition to sponsors and bill numbers. A few even offer tracking capabilities—once you’ve selected a bill, the system will e-mail action updates or save it in a report so you don’t have to run the same search again.
Many state medical and specialty societies list legislation being monitored on their websites or e-mail legislative alerts to their members. They may also send out hard copies in the mail. Checking your “opponents'” websites is also helpful—this is often a great way of staying ahead of the game and determining what their strategy will be during the legislative session.
The State Affairs Team at the College tracks legislation and can help you anticipate issues that may be introduced in your state based on the trends in other states. Be sure to contact them to find out which bills are being monitored.
The media is another source of information on state legislation. Don’t rely on this as a sole source of information, since media outlets will probably not report on a bill unless it is actively moving through the legislative process and there’s an angle that makes good “press”—and by then it may be too late to mount a grassroots advocacy campaign.
Lobbyists and Elected Officials
Not everyone can afford a lobbyist, but obviously they are a key resource for tracking and monitoring legislation. Just because a bill has been introduced, it may not be going anywhere and you don’t want to waste your resources on a dead bill. A lobbyist may have the “inside” information on the way a bill is going to move (or not). However, if you’ve established good relationships with your local state senator or representative you can get that same information from them!