On last month’s policy call we started the conversation with NYEC members around advocacy efforts at their own organizations and on the ground in their communities. Dr. Alice Prince of SLATE in Missouri told us about their working relationship with Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO). Listening to Dr. Prince talk about SLATE’s relationship with Senator Blunt, I knew that we needed to dig a little deeper and see how she did it.
The thing is that building these relationships isn’t as heavy of a lift as one may imagine. Dr. Prince said of SLATE’s relationship with Senator Blunt, “We have always had a good relationship with Roy Blunt and his office. I went to DC to meet the Senator, we had a great conversation; he asked me to get to know his staffers in Saint Louis and the rest was history.” However, one doesn’t need to fly out to DC to build these connections, for Dr. Prince and SLATE that was just their start. Another valuable way to build relationships is to start at the local level. “I make sure to keep his office as I do all elected officials updated with our programs and outcomes. Senator Blunt is a major supporter of Youth Build and with our 24-hour mentoring component and I like to think we have the most amazing program ever!”, said Dr. Prince on maintaining their relationship with the Senator.
There are many reasons that it’s a good idea to begin to look into this form of advocacy. Despite the national conversation and the optics surrounding elected officials, at the end of the day they were elected to office by members of your community, and because of that they are responsible for representing the best interests of your community and its members. As organizations doing crucial work in the community every day, elected officials should be in the know on what’s happening. As organizations that rely on federal funding and serve an extremely vulnerable population that directly impacts the future of said community, it is even more crucial to maintain these open lines of communication. It’s as simple as sending a letter of introduction and an invitation to events your organization is already hosting. Advocacy doesn’t have to be an added task to your already too long to-do list; it can be slowly incorporated into the tasks and time you’ve already carved out. Make it a habit to include your elected officials on any newsletters, updates, mass communications, publications, etc. that your organization is putting out. “The best advice I could give local areas is to be authentic. Do not go in as a sales person. Do not always go in complaining and asking. Just start off the relationship by saying, “Hello, my name is…” Get to know everyone who works in the office. Some people will be too busy and not remember who you are; other will remember you. Be yourself and be genuine.”, said Dr. Prince.
Any organization, no matter the size, can participate in this form of advocacy, with support and tools like NYEC’s District Office Tool Kit*, you too can become an advocate for opportunity youth with your elected officials. Dr. Prince offered some advice to those who may be new to this form of advocacy, “Play the starring role in your movie. This means you have to do the work, play the part, support the cast, market the movie, show up to the events, and all of the other responsibilities. You have to tell your story. It is unfair to think an elected official knows what is going on if you do not tell them about your program, outcomes, and needs. It is not fair to only contact your elected official when there is something wrong. Contact them and keep them updated all the time. Invite them out, have them mentor staff and participants, take a field trip to the office; never stop telling your story.”
In that spirit, we at NYEC want you to feel empowered to speak with your elected officials, if you want to dive into advocacy but don’t know how we encourage you to go through the District Office Tool Kit. The Tool Kit will continue to be updated to provide you with the most current and relevant information. Charts including the names of your elected officials, key staff members, committees they sit on and even top in-district donor information are all being included in the tool kit to make reaching out to your elected officials easier. For those who are worried that these efforts may fall on deaf ears Dr. Prince offered this, “every time we reach out, call, and email someone responds. His office is very attentive and responsive. I am authentic and very passionate. We call the office not just when we want something. We also call the office to say thank you. I think that is important component of a genuine relationship. His office also calls me. The relationship goes two ways”. Keeping in regular contact with your elected officials’ office can yield a good working relationship. “Senator Blunt’s Saint Louis Office and Regional Director just attended a graduation we had for the 24-Hour Workforce High School. This was a unique graduation because it took place inside of our Medium Security Institution” said Dr. Prince on the types of events Senator Blunt’s office has taken an interest in.
If you have any questions about anything in the tool kit or would even like to get on the phone to walk through it and help build your strategy, please feel free to reach out to us! Thomas Jefferson once said, “a well-informed electorate is a pre-requisite to democracy”; it can also be said that well-informed elected officials are a pre-requisite to democracy, and we’ll be here every step of the way to help you do so.