Developing The Relationship
Having personal ties to policymakers allows us to share our message and help them understand our issues. Develop the relationship when elected officials are less busy – usually during late fall when most legislative bodies are not in session. However, remember that re-election schedules may come into play during this time as well.
Policymakers want and need to hear from constituents who are impacted by their decisions. Policymakers usually divide issues among staff members who follow activity and constituent support for their assigned issues. Never overlook the staff! In many cases, especially at the national level, the staff person is key to your views being heard and acted on. A staff member may be responsible for 20 or more broad issues and is seldom an expert in all of them. They rely on others to keep them knowledgeable, including groups like NCWE and local experts like you.
Offer to serve as a resource. You are in an excellent position to provide information about your programs and how they affect your community. Once you develop a working relationship, they will look to you more often, and ask for your input as these issues come forward. By establishing yourself as a reliable information source, you are improving your access to the policymaker.
Know Your Policymaker
Learn as much as possible about your elected officials and where they stand on issues. How have they voted in the past? What is their political philosophy? Officials who support your position can help you develop your strategy; those who are undecided require more time and resources; and those who are opposed can sometimes be persuaded to change their minds. Never assume you know what they think – find out. Usually, they post a biography and information about their positions on their web sites.
When you contact a policymaker or staffer, identify yourself as a constituent, if this is the case. If not, be sure to mention if your college or any of its campuses are in the policymaker’s district. Identify yourself as a workforce education professional with expertise in job skills training, basic skills education, specific industry sectors, or other topics that are relevant to the issue at hand. Identify yourself as a member of NCWE and any other professional organizations germane to your advocacy work. This will further enhance your credibility and effectiveness by linking you to a broader advocacy effort.
Enhancing the Relationship
Elected officials balance many public issues. If they do not agree to support one of your issues this time, they may support a future issue. You want to build a long-term relationship so that they turn to you as an expert in workforce education. In addition to contacting them about specific legislation or issues:
- Share news articles or research studies on the positive impact of legislation on your students and your community.
- Invite them to campus to witness the impact their support for particular policies and programs has had on their constituents.
- Thank them for a positive vote on your issue, or on actions taken that are important to the community.
- Ask them to include "workforce education and job training programs” in their appropriation priorities letter. NCWE will let you know when this process occurs.
- Congratulate them on honors received or elections won.
Whenever you meet with a public official it is important to follow-up and thank them for their time. Public officials appreciate, but seldom receive, thank you letters for actions taken. Be among those who show appreciation for their support and you will be remembered! Also ask if they need additional information. As important as your one-time visit is, you need to continue to follow the legislation throughout the legislative and implementation processes and as things change or new issues arise, be prepared to contact your policymakers several times. If you meet with a staffer, show them the same courtesy and thank them. Be sure to get their email address and send them a quick note and just like with your legislator, offer to serve as a resource and/or provide them with additional information.