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Becoming an Advocate

Seven Keys
For Effective Legislative Advocacy

Adapted from publication written by Dennis Byars

1. Understand the need for citizen lobbyists
2. Know the facts
3. Develop and sustain relationships
4. Follow the rules
5. Communicate ideas, needs, support and nonsupport
6. Know the do's and do not's
7. Organize for change

1. Understand the Need

  • Most senior services and benefits come from state and federal governmental agencies.
  • Most senior services and benefits have been created as a result of consumer/family advocacy.
  • Few people advocate on behalf of seniors except consumers and their families.

If we don’t do it, it won’t get done.

2. Know the Facts

  • Less than 60% of eligible voters register to vote.
  • Less than 50% of registered voters vote in most elections.
  • Less than 20% of active voters actively participate in election campaigns.
  • Less than 30% of a candidate’s supporters stay involved in framing legislation after the election is over.

Shock and awe:

  • Less than 10% of the electorate contacts their legislator to support/oppose pending legislation.


3. Develop Relationships

  • Know that legislators are people, just like the rest of us!
  • Schedule an appointment to introduce yourself to your legislator in his/her own local district. Take an agency-specific brochure and your business card. Follow-up with a "thank you for the visit" letter.
  • Put your legislator on your agency mailing list. Send him/her copies of publications, brochures, pamphlets. Always attach your business card.
  • Do your homework: know the issues of importance to your legislator. Know his/her committees; special awards; history of involvement with your agency/population for the past several years; family make-up; business dealings; etc.
  • Offer to help your legislator
  • Volunteer in a campaign
  • Provide speech material on long-term care
  • Give testimony on legislation
  • Hold receptions, family nights, senior salutes, in honor of legislator
  • Conduct voter registration drives
  • Set up candidates’ night
  • Compile scrapbook
  • Inform him/her of agency job openings
  • Bring residents to Capitol


Activities your legislator can do to help you:

  • Sponsor bills helping elders, providers and family members
  • Draft proclamations commending elders, personnel, special occasions
  • Send out copies of bills
  • Judge or honorary chairperson for special events, fund raisers
  • Become a board member for your agency
  • Appoint you to long-term care legislative committees


Visit legislator in the Capitol. Never stop trying to develop a positive relationship with your legislator. If he/she is defeated, immediately start all over again with the newly elected legislator.

4. Follow the Rules

Rules don't mean red tape. Following the rules often means avoiding unnecessary complications.

  • Know and respect the basic legislative process
  • Know and respect your legislator and other decision-makers in your area
  • Be prepared to work long and hard hours and remain positive
  • Know the facts about your issue and know the case of the opposition
  • Join with others of similar interests. Form coalitions and network
  • Present your case with clarity and brevity. Be factual, not emotional
  • Use your own style, but always be courteous, realistic, and professional


Tell the truth.

  • Know your legislator’s staff members and provide them with information.
  • Work with the staff of your legislator, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House. It is very helpful if the staff members support your issue.
  • Follow your legislation all the way through the signing by the Governor. This process includes appropriation of the funds and development of agency regulations.

5. Communicate Ideas

Telephone, write and send telegrams to your legislator, when necessary, regarding legislation.


Before Legislative Session:

  • Phone the legislator’s office or home and express your ideas on the issues and/or specific bills
  • Meet with the legislative staff
  • Keep them informed of k4ad/AAA issues and platform positions


During Legislative Session:

  • Meet with the legislators in their offices and talk about a certain bill you do or do not support
  • Attend hearings on specific bills and register and/or testify in support for or against the bills
  • Telephone, write and send faxes to your legislator, when necessary, regarding legislation
  • Meet with or telephone the staff of the legislator or committee regarding legislation (take a legislative aide to lunch!)
  • Check often on the progress of the bills of interest to you


6. Know the Do's and Do Not's



  • Make sure your legislator knows seniors receiving services and their families
  • Contact your legislator early; make an appointment
  • Talk to your legislator in person in preference to telephoning or writing
  • Establish an on-going relationship and a reputation for reliability
  • Treat your legislator as a friend and an intelligent citizen
  • Be prepared. Be specific and know your facts
  • Provide a brief, clearly written summary of your position. (One issue per letter or position paper)
  • Work with the legislator’s staff! They provide your legislator with constituent information and when a legislator does not have the time to become an expert on every issue, a staff member is relied on to research and suggest opinions on certain subjects.
  • Leave simple written material
  • Request specific action. Have reasonable priorities; comprise, it’s a long process
  • Write a thank-you note following every visit or supportive action taken by your legislator



  • Try to talk to a legislator when they’re obviously in a hurry
  • Be argumentative or abrasive
  • Overload them with written material
  • Assume they are familiar with your issues
  • Bluff if you don’t know the answer
  • Talk about too many issues at once
  • Press for an answer from your legislator on your first visit
  • Threaten a legislator with votes
  • Spend association funds in any political campaign


7. Organize for Change

Educating Policy Makers


  • Call when time is of essence or if you have a "working" or personal relationship with the legislator or board member
  • Be respectful of his/her time constraints
  • Identify yourself by name, organization (if applicable), and address if necessary
  • Make it short and to the point; let them initiate a longer conversation



  • Plan your message! Make notes or an outline so that you do not forget important points and that your conversation flows in a concise, logical manner
  • Be accurate and use statistics carefully
  • Use complete words, not everyone understands "disability" or aging services acronyms
  • Identify a legislative bill by title, number, author, and where it is in the legislative process
  • State your position and how you would like the member to vote/act on the issue


  • Ask his/her view on the bill or issue. Try to obtain a commitment; however, do not be rude or disrespectful. The member may not be familiar with the issue. If not, you may ask if the member would get back with you after reviewing the position/issue.
  • Show knowledge and appreciation of any past support
  • Provide requested information as quickly as possible
  • Remember, your call should be planned for not more than three minutes
  • Follow up in writing to reiterate your position and to summarize the results (if any) or your conversation



Write your letter(s) before a decision has been made or before a public hearing to emphasize testimony to be presented

Send your letter to ALL members unless specific members(s) have been targeted

"Follow-up" in writing if needed; however, be brief and don’t repeat everything in your first letter

THANK A MEMBER if positive action is taken. IT WILL BE REMEMBERED!


  • Make your letter one page or less, covering no more than one issue with reasons/justifications for your position/solutions
  • Make sure your letter is can be handwritten, typed, or computer-printed
  • NEVER SEND THE SAME LETTER with different signatures (form letter) to the same member
  • Include your name and address on the letter and envelope
  • Tell them, to please call you if they have questions. Make sure your phone number is included.
  • Be respectful and sincere



  • Make sure your letter is clear and to the point. Don’t expect the member to have to "study" the letter to understand what you expect.
  • State why you are writing and what action you want the person to take
  • Explain how and why the proposal would affect you and your family member with a disability. Be personal
  • Use statistics carefully; cite only one or two key data if necessary. Make sure your facts are accurate, otherwise, do not use them
  • Attach supporting information; don’t try to incorporate everything into the body of the letter



The Honorable Laura Kelly
Office of the Governor
State Capitol Second Floor
Topeka, KS 66612

Dear Madam Governor;

I am writing to you regarding current Medicaid reform legislation and the proposed changes which will affect the frail elderly population in Kansas.

I support the fact that you will VETO the current legislation as it is proposed, the "Medigrant" program. This will allow all of us to be involved in serious dialogue about the needed changes which will assure flexible quality services and more cost efficient service delivery for my mother.

I thank you for wanting to do the right thing in these times. The needs of the frail elderly must be included, by including health care and long-term care, as part of negotiations with the Legislature.

Please remember that the frail elderly are your constituents and deserve your consideration. Thank you.



The Honorable ________________
United States House of Representatives
House Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative____________,

I am writing to you regarding current Medicaid reform legislation and the proposed changes which will affect (people whom we serve) with developmental disabilities (Mental Retardation) (my child). (You may add a brief personal note that describes your circumstances here.) I urge you to support the following:

Assurances that money spent on long-term services for people with mental retardation and other disabilities in FY 1996 will be combined with the funding for mandatory services that states will be obligated to continue to target on programs for people with disabilities; and,

Assurance that current SSI definitions of disabilities will be used nationwide in determining future eligibility for Medicaid services.

Please remember that persons with developmental disabilities are your constituents and deserve your consideration. Passing the best possible Bill at this time will be the beginning point of negotiation with the White House (in the event of Veto), allowing the needs of people with disabilities to be recognized in crafting real Medicaid Reform in the future.

Thank you.




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