According to Stephanie Vance, advocacy is not just the art of pleading for a cause, it’s the art of pleading effectively for a cause. Vance brings more than 15 years of experience working for congressional legislators in Washington, D.C., to her current role as the “Advocacy Guru.” She gives informative and humorous presentations outlining the key elements that inform a successful effort to get the attention (and support) of the Powers-that-Be (i.e., your state and national elected representatives). Her message? Government isn’t broken; you can work the system and beat the odds. Why should you take her seriously? “Nancy Pelosi has been in my car,” she jokes. If that’s not enough, she’s written four books on the subject, and broadcasts her message at www.advocacyassociates.com.
In her presentation “Advocacy Directions” at the WEMTA Spring Conference’s “Digital Age Learning Leadership Summit,” Vance outlined a wide array of advocacy techniques. Some are highlighted here.
Know Thy Legislator
Vance took pains to emphasize the importance of doing the research before approaching a Representative or Senator to seek support for your cause. Knowing the issues and concerns that are important to him or her will help you frame an appeal that resonates. Some questions to ask:
- Why are you relevant – do you live, work, or serve in the legislator’s district?
- What are they interested in – what bills have they introduced? Can you connect your cause to their interests?
- What positions do they hold – any committee assignments or leadership roles that connect to your cause?
- What are their politics – can you modify your pitch to fit a liberal or a conservative viewpoint?
Lower Your Expectations
The legislative process is messy. Passing legislation is hard. Vance pointed out that thousands of bills are introduced in the U.S. Congress every session; fewer than 4 percent actually become law. The legislative process was designed to facilitate discussion, not implementation, she said. This should not dissuade you from advocating for a particular issue or bill; just be realistic about what you expect to achieve.
Consider the Factors that Influence Elected Officials
Legislators have to address the interests of those who elected them. Each member of the House of Representatives, for example, speaks for roughly 750,000 constituents. To stand apart from the crowd when presenting your case, appeal to a legislator’s self-interest.
- If you have a personal connection – to a friend of the legislator, his or her family, or a staff member – reference those connections.
- Describe how your issue affects jobs, development, and other issues of concern to the legislator’s constituents.
- Connect your issue to a “hot topic” of the day (e.g., bank regulation, stimulus funds, ESEA re-authorization).
- Reinforce that supporting your cause will be good for the legislator’s public image, possibly even help raise campaign funds.
Making Lemonade – Relationship Building
Meaningful relationships make for effective advocacy; in Vance’s view, you work with what you have.
- Look at your network – do you know someone who is friends with the legislator?
- Host a local event – and invite your legislator to attend (take lots of pictures!).
- Write a newsletter article and reference the legislator’s support of issues related to your cause.
- Post a statement on your Web site – add photos of the legislator attending your events.
- Offer to help with legislative case work.
- Make it local – reference your school, your hometown, or localize your pitch based on where you work or where your headquarters is located.
- A typical meeting with an elected official is 7.5 minutes, so think about how to string out a series of short meetings over the course of a year through shorter, frequent communications.
Basics of Effective Advocacy
Advocacy is the art of pleading for a specific cause. Vance cited these approaches to being an effective advocate:
- Know what you want – ask for something specific, and express it as a question. For example, “Will you support a dedicated source of funding for educational technology?”
- Don’t try to educate anyone – that might be tempting, as we’re in the education business, but the key is to personalize and localize.
- Prepare a “spectrum of asks” from easy to hard – Will you come visit us? Will you make a statement on this issue? Will you put that statement in the Congressional Record? Will you vote “yes” on this bill?
- Build a relationship – ask how you can help to make the case for the cause you support.
- Be at the table where discussions are held and decisions are made.
- Follow the S.P.I.T rule – Specific Personal Informative Trustworthy.
Ed Tech Action Network
If you’d like to tip your toe in the advocacy pool, you may want to consider becoming an active member of the Ed Tech Action Network (ETAN) (www.edtechactionnetwork.org), which is gathering educators’ stories and testimonials that highlight why technology belongs in the classroom as an essential part of a 21st century education. The goal is to persuade Congress that funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program should be retained in the FY2011 federal budget.