October 18, 2019
Getting the Attention of Legislators

From time to time nonprofits need to get the attention of legislators, but doing that effectively requires planning and crafting the right message. Here’s advice on how to do it – from the legislators themselves.

The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network this past fall held a number of meetings across the state, during which legislators offered tips and advice on how to get their attention.

Two themes emerged: 1) Visiting legislators just when you want something is not sufficient. It’s important to create an ongoing relationship; 2) Numbers and statistics are not enough. It’s vital to put a human face on the issue and describe how it will impact the community beyond your nonprofit.

The following is a summary of key points the legislators offered.

Rep. Cleon Turner – First Barnstable
  • Put a face on your ask.
  • Don’t rely on just numbers and statistics to make your case.
  • Important to bring someone from your district when you visit your legislator.
  • Know your legislators and the things that interests them.
  • It’s really important when sending correspondence not to one correspondence to the whole senate or whole committee. Personalize your correspondence, even if you are sending it to the whole committee. At the least individualize the greeting, and don’t send a photocopied letter.
Sen. Karen Spilka – Second Middlesex and Norfolk
  • Relate the topic to my district.
  • Don’t hesitate to meet with one of my staff, as opposed to insisting on a meeting with me.
  • Bring a one-page summary with you.
  • Factor in the economic impact, not just the human impact.
Rep. David Linsky – Fifth Middlesex
  • Be a resource to me.
  • Make it personal.
Rep. Chris Walsh (elect) – Sixth Middlesex
  • Don’t wait until there’s a problem to contact me.
  • Explain impact on quality of life/community benefit in the region, not just your clients.
  • Take advantage of my time NOW while I’m still “elect”.
Rep. Tom Sannicandro – Seventh Middlesex
  • We retell stories among ourselves so a good story is worth a lot.
  • Mobilize your members and do it well.
  • Doesn’t take a whole lot of letters to get my attention (five is great).
  • Build the relationship.
Rep. Alice Peisch – Fourteenth Norfolk
  • Brevity is important: get to the point.
  • Email is more effective than a phone call (a personal letter is also good).
Sen. James Eldridge – Middlesex and Worcester
  • It’s very powerful to see clients and board members through events.
  • Get clients to write editorials.
  • During a site visit, point out clients and activities, not just the building.
Sen. Harriette Chandler – First Worcester
  • Put a face on your story.
  • Bring in someone who benefits—not just a constituent—bring a client, a recipient of your program.
  • Maintain the relationship ongoing – make periodic visits.
  • A quarter of the legislature is new, so make sure you establish relationships with legislators quickly.
Rep. Steven DiNatale – Third Worcester
  • Legislators have to make tough decisions. It’s important to make a compelling case.
  • Get as many as people as possible to contact your legislator.
  • You need the facts and you need the personal face.
  • Make it clear why your issue is important to the community as a whole, not just to your organization.
  • Make your argument as follows: For every dollar you spend on this preventative program, you’ll save $X dealing with the problem later.
Rep. John Fernandes – Tenth Worcester
  • The best way to convince me is through stories.
  • I read my own emails.
  • More credibility when it comes from a known advocacy group.
  • Message has to come across about the impact of cuts.
  • Use many different avenues to reach us, not just one.
Rep. Harold Naughton, Jr. – Twelfth Worcester
  • Know who your legislator is; know your audience when you communicate with him.
  • When you meet with a legislator, you’re selling. It’s important to be quick: make your message precise.
  • Important to visit before the legislative session really gets underway – form a relationship before you want something.
  • Invite legislator to your nonprofit’ s program – they need to see the service in action.
  • If you want your legislator to write a letter to the chair of a legislative committee, write the letter for him. Legislators have no staff, so this makes it easier for them.
Rep. William Pignatelli – Fourth Berkshire
  • It’s important to talk about the economic impact of the work you do. Tell a personal story. Put a face on issue. Show impact of the funding.
  • Overall, it’s important to visit your legislator: create a relationship when you don’t need anything.
  • Productive, short, and personal: this is how your meeting with legislator should be.
Rebecca Donham and Esther Hanig contributed to this article.

December 2010

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