Politics is always a hot topic and no more so than in the health care arena. Being versed in health care advocacy and the basics of advocacy and lobbying are good skills to acquire and can be good for your business.
There is a famous line from an old movie where the lead character is leaning out the window and says “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Waiting until you’re mad as hell is not necessarily the way to enter into the world of advocacy.
In fact advocacy does not mean having a mass demonstration and getting arrested! It is really first and foremost about speaking up for something that you believe. By yourself you can have a voice. And when you team with others and are backed by a coalition, well, legislators listen. Especially if they believe that a majority (think 51%) supports what you want. Because if the elective official doesn’t support the majority they could be voted out of office!
Let’s first distinguish advocacy from lobbying.
- Advocacy by an individual or group is done to influence public-policy and resource allocation within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. It could include many activities including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research or poll.
- Lobbying is a form of advocacy where a direct approach is made to legislators on an issue which plays a significant role in modern politics. While there are professional lobbyists who are paid to do this, it by no means is limited to that group.
There are three audiences that you need to reach in your advocacy efforts.
- Elected officials and their staff
- Other voters
- The media
It is essential to let your elected officials and their staff know how you feel. But one lone voice probably won’t cause them to vote a particular way. So your job includes informing other voters as well as legislators. Then to spread your message enlist the media for support.
Here is a rundown of basic advocacy and lobbying points to keep in mind as you embark on this journey.
- Know your legislators.
First determine if this is a local, state, or national issue. Ultimately where will the solution to your cause/problem come? Then educate yourself on the legislative process for those you are targeting. For example on a national level, your House and Senate representatives may serve on committees charged with drafting or passing legislation dear to your cause. Get to know your politicians’ special interests and favorite causes.
- Know your legislator’s staff.
The aides to an elected official are powerful influences. They assemble and analyze the research and data that later forms the presentation of an issue to the legislator. A staff member on your side is a powerful ally. Keep in mind that legislative staff can change frequently, so be sure to stay current and offer to brief new staff about your issues and concerns.
- Know which legislators are sympathetic to your cause.
Easier said than done. You can track this informally through media articles, search engine queries and by tracking voting. Chances are a nursing home group, assisted living organization or other care association that represents your cause has a better handle on this.
- Address one issue at a time.
Pick one issue that has the most traction and likelihood of action. Pick policies that have broad support. Focus on very specific issues rather than vague goals.
- Know your issue.
You may decide to first take your cause to any one of the audiences mentioned before – other voters, the media, legislators. Whomever you start with, have relevant information about your issue. Fact sheets, easy-to-understand charts and other relevant tools should spell out the issue and what you expect from the person you are approaching. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have the answer to a question; promise to research the answer and get back to them.
Be polite and appreciative to those you approach. You will get far better results meeting face-to-face rather than picketing. Conflicts can turn allies against your cause.
- Use simple language.
Use language that everyone understands. Have one basic message. e.g.: “There is a funding crisis in long term care; it can and must be solved; here’s what you can do.”
- Preach to those not in the choir!
Don’t forget to approach people who are uninformed and/or unconvinced about your issue. You can make great strides in educating and converting them and adding them to your coalition.
- Keep legislators informed about your activities.
Lobbying is not a one time and done affair. While you ideally would like to get commitment from a legislator for a specific action, chances are first encounters are just the start of the relationship. Keep legislators, particularly key aides, informed. As your clout increases so will their interest! Provide them with information, contacts, and referrals so they can find out more.
- Use the media and mediums.
The media can be your friend. But it is more than approaching reporters. There are platforms where you can get your message out without soliciting a story – community access television for example. Public awareness will build your base.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat your basic message over and over.
So let me say that again, repeat, repeat, repeat your message. It takes many times before messages seep into people’s consciousness. Think about how many times you have seen certain commercials.
These basics can get you started in advocacy and lobbying. The important thing – just get started.