The Focus Your Resources Rule:
Some legislators are more equal than others, and given that most organizations have limited resources, it is important to focus your resources on key legislators – such as those that serve on key committees or those that have personal experience with your issue. Dewayne Long, NAMI Southwest Missouri says, "A legislator can passionately advance the issues when they share views that are important to us. Their involvement automatically gives our cause a significant advantage." Of course, this does not mean you ignore or do not solicit support from other legislators.
The Make New Friends Rule:
The late Henry Gonzalez, a longtime Congressman from Texas, once said, "There is a world of difference between someone being against you and someone being really against you." What he meant was that there are many degrees of support and opposition within the legislative process. The significance for you is that moving one key legislator from hard opposition to indifference may be just as critical to success as moving a supporter from passive support to championing your cause. You always want to try to move a legislator up a grade. Sometimes, moving a legislator from a D to a C can be as critical to our success as moving a one from a B to an A.
The Thank-You Rule:
Like everyone else, legislators love to receive praise and attention for doing positive things that support our issues. It is very hard to give legislators too much attention for doing good things or to say "thank you" too many times. And beside, it is always good manners to thank someone who has been helpful to us.
There is No Friend like a Constituent Rule:
Simply put; do not wait until after the legislative session to thank those legislators who helped us. And the keys are:
1) Don't just thank your sponsor or floor leader – look and look hard for things for which to thank other legislators. A favorable vote in committee or on the floor, a quote in the newspaper, a comment during floor debate in support of our position or even taking time to meet with NAMI members are all worthy of a thank-you letter. And don't forget letters to acknowledge your legislator's efforts in a letter-to-the-editor of the hometown newspaper.
2) Thank-you letters from you are nice, but they can't compare to the impact of a letter from one or more of the legislator's constituents. If you don't have supporters or members in a key legislator's district, then make an effort to find some because there is simply no substitute for hand written thank you letters from constituents. In fact, never under-estimate the importance of constituents.
"One of the things that make NAMI such a powerful force in Missouri politics is its ability to put grassroots family members in direct contact with elected officials. There is no substitute and it is far more effective than any paid lobbyist," says Linda Siefkas, a media consultant.
The Smith Barney Rule:
In a famous television commercial for the stock brokerage company, the punch line was, "We make money the old-fashioned way – we earn it." Media stories (called "earned media," as opposed to "paid advertising") in the legislator's hometown newspaper about NAMI issues and citing your legislators' support are far more valuable to the legislator than any paid political advertising. Legislators appreciate your efforts to make that happen. After each legislative session, make a list of your legislators, find something they did during the session for which you can thank them, and then thank them as publicly as possible.
You can hold the "thank you event" at a local restaurant, your NAMI office or even someone's home. Order a nice plaque or frame a resolution for the presentation ceremony, send out press releases several days before the event and invite your members and supporters.
Make sure someone from your affiliate is on hand to take pictures of the legislator receiving your award. Have copies of the pictures made, write and print a second press release explaining what happened and send them both to every newspaper in the legislator's district. In urban areas, the major newspaper may not publish it, but the chances are excellent that the neighborhood weekly and the suburban newspapers will.
A little thoughtfulness can go a long way in the legislative process. Just like the rest of us, legislators like to be recognized when their efforts make a positive difference in people's lives. It is by this recognition that legislators will take a greater interest in your issues. Many times the difference between a legislator that is no more than sympathetic to our issue and one that can be counted on to carry our fight into the caucus rooms at the statehouse is doing the little things necessary to support that relationship.
Edited by Dewayne Long for use with Advocacy Training.