WORKING FOR CHANGE

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

What's the difference between Lobbying and Advocacy?< br>
Under the law, a nonprofit organization is lobbying when it:
  1. States its position on specific legislation to legislators or other government employees who participate in the formulation of legislation,
  2. Urges it members to contact government employees or legislators regarding legislation, or
  3. States its position on legislation to the general public and asks the public to make such contacts.

Although nonprofit organizations can lobby, Federal tax law limits the amount of lobbying they can do. Additionally, nonprofit organizations must consult their funders to make sure their funders do not restrict lobbying activities. For more information, nonprofit organizations should get legal advice to make sure they are in compliance with the tax laws.

"Legislative Advocacy" is another way of "becoming involved in affecting legislation." More and more parent groups are deciding to work for change at the law-making level. In fact, the active involvement of such groups has had a distinctive impact on local, State and Federal legislation.

There is a difference in the roles and jurisdiction of local, state and national elected officials. It is important to know which government official to approach, what the issue is, where that government official is located, when to make the approach and how the whole process works.

Government is divided into three basic areas, each area having a specific function and jurisdiction. A local elected official has no legislative power on State matters and elected State officials have no legislative power at the Federal level.
Local Government - Locally elected officials may be called councilmen, commissioners, or journey-men and are elected only by the people whom they directly serve, such as precincts, cities or counties. They deal with matters affecting cities and counties. They have influence at the State or Federal level but have no vote in such matters.
Local government has been responsive to parent groups in passing such legislation as anti-paraphernalia laws (ruled constitutional by an 8 to 0 vote of the United States Supreme Court in March, 1982). In Baltimore, Maryland, for example, local parent groups were successful in getting legislation passed to remove alcohol and tobacco billboards which were near schools ( legislation which was upheld on appeal). Such legislation reflects community values and can be enforced through local law enforcement agencies. Most city and county government bodies meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis; offices are usually located in City Halls or County Court Houses.
State Government - Most State legislatures are bicameral, meaning they have two legislative bodies known as the House of Representatives and the Senate. The elected members of these bodies are called Representatives, Assemblymen or Delegates (depending on the State) and Senators.
State legislatures meet at prescribed times of the year at the State capitol. During the remainder of the year they can generally be found in home districts (see the local phone book or contact the Chamber of Commerce). Parent group representatives should meet with State legislators when they are in the home district. Any meetings should be by appointment. Note: while State legislation has an effect at the local level, elected State officials have no official say in local or Federal matters.

State legislatures have become increasingly responsive to tobacco, alcohol and drug related legislation, in part, because of the advocacy of parent groups and other interested organizations. Parent groups have been involved in the passage of State anti-paraphernalia laws in a number of States and have been instrumental in encouraging legislation banning look-alike drugs, increasing penalties for drunk driving and other tobacco, alcohol and drug related legislation.

When legislatures are in session, most States have a toll-free line for inquiries about the status of proposed bills. When calling, have the number of the bill about which the inquiry is being made and some understanding of the legislative process.

To write a State senator or representative, the correct form of address is:
The Honorable (full name of senator or representative)
Member, (name of State) House of Representatives
or
Member, (name of State) State Senate
(Address)
Dear Representative (last name) or
Dear Senator (last name)
Federal Government - The seat of the federal government is located in Washington D.C., and each citizen is represented by two senators in the United States Senate and by one congressman in the United States House of Representatives. Senators are elected at large in each State and congressmen are elected only by the voters in their specifically defined district. Congressmen and Senators deal only with Federal legislation. While U.S. congressmen and senators may spend time in Washington, all have staffed offices in their home districts which are accessible to the general public. The correct form of address to write a Senator or Congressman is:
The Honorable (name)
Member, United States House of Representatives
or
Member, United States Senate
Dear Congressman (last name) or
Dear Senator (last name)
Tips to More Effective Advocacy:
  • Learn how the law-making process works.
  • Make a point of meeting your elected official before you have an issue to discuss. Then when you need to see them about an issue, they will likely remember you.
  • Person-to-person meetings are best, but if not possible, put your issue in writing. When writing, be sure to:
    1. Make the letter short and confine it to one subject
    2. Identify yourself and your organization
    3. Know your subject
    4. Be friendly
    5. Be constructive - If you believe a bill should not be passed, explain why and offer suggestions for amendment.
    6. Ask for a reply
    7. Urge others to write
    8. No form letters and no petitions!
    9. When your congressman votes in favor of your issue, send a hand written "thank you" note.
    10. Approach your own elected officials - not those from other districts. Elected officials respond to the people who elected them - their constituency.
    11. Choose one or two issues. Don't "shotgun" by covering several issues at one time.
    12. Believe in the issue and be as well informed as possible about it.
    13. Know the subject better than the elected official does. Be prepared to explain how the legislation will affect you personally.
    14. Be honest and straight-forward.
    15. Be concise and to the point. An elected official has a limited amount of time to spend with any one person. If meeting in person, leave after making your point.
    16. Don't talk to your elected official too soon. Understand that when a bill is still in Committee, the Committee controls it. Unless your official serves on that particular Committee, he will not be involved until it reaches the House or Senate floor.
    17. Don't put the official in an embarrassing position which could affect re-election.
    18. Don't use pressure tactics, threaten or become angry.
    19. Don't burn any bridges; someone not with you today may be with you tomorrow.
It has been estimated that one letter or call represents the opinion of 400 citizens. Citizen pressure can have a tremendous influence on elected officials, the media, and the products produced and advertised by businesses. Your group can make a difference.

Tips for Increasing Media Coverage - It doesn't do any organization much good to try to do things no one knows about or hears about. Media involvement in the group is crucial to the growth and longevity of the organization and can vastly increase community support of prevention projects and activities. To get the most mileage out of local media:
  1. Develop a media contact list comprised of community newspapers, high school and college newspapers and radio stations. Get addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers and names of editors and division directors. When doing a mailing, it will more likely be read if addressed to an individual.
  2. Develop a media kit for each opportunity and include a press release with the names of local contacts and spokespersons, fact sheets, photographs if available, brochures, booklets and any other information which will help convey the message.
  3. Send out entire press kits or select pieces to target different markets. Send opinion editorials (op-eds) to the editor, announcements to city editors for events, etc.
  4. Time mailings well in advance of events - weekly newspapers often have space filled months in advance of publication time.
  5. Request that print media send you a "tear sheet" (page from the publication containing the published article) if they use or adapt your piece.
  6. Follow up mailings with phone calls. Ask if the material was received, reiterate major points of the information or activity and ask if any further information is needed in order to get the piece published or broadcast.
  7. Evaluate the effectiveness of media materials. Monitor which pieces were published/broadcast and which were not. Analyze the reasons. Did the releases get printed but not the op-eds or letters? Perhaps the problem is column space. Sometimes the problem is timing, and the information needs to get out further in advance next time. Ask for feedback on why the piece was not published/broadcast. Learn from mistakes.

Recommended resource publication on media coverage: Making Prevention Work: Actions for Media. For ordering information see Bibliography section entitled "Coalition Building/Community Involvement."