Advocacy is giving personal witness to your faith by speaking on behalf of those who frequently are not heard at the policy-making level. Motivating advocacy is the belief that faith and action need to be linked. Through advocacy, legislators are made aware that there is a responsibility to the needs of our vulnerable neighbors.


I. Effective advocacy depends on getting our message across to our elected officials. Two main elements: the content of the message and our delivery.

II. Content – what is the message we want to deliver?

A. It is not "social justice" or "safety net concerns" or even “Welfare Reform”. Those are too vague and don’t tell the legislators what specifically we want them to do.

B. Our message each year consists of a package of three specific legislative proposals (budget amendments), with a common theme of closing the gap between low incomes and the high cost of living:

1. Work Sharing.

2. Increase in TANF benefits and indexing benefits to the cost of living.

3. Medicaid & EITC Expansion for working poor families.

C. We already have good materials to use, so the groundwork has been laid.

III. Delivery – how can we best convey our message?

A. Methods/tools available:

1. For building support for our agenda: e-mail messages; letters and cards to legislators; letters to the editor and editorials in local papers; enlisting the help of others (e.g., county board of supervisors, other advocacy groups); testimony before and visits to legislators.

2. For urging specific action (e.g., when a vote is imminent): phone calls, faxed messages, e-mail messages.

B. Characteristics of effective delivery:

1. Message is clear and concise – legislators’ time is at a premium.

2. Message is made compelling through an example, a story, supporting facts, or personal experience. Tailor these to the method you’re using – you can include more of these in a letter than a phone call, and more in a visit than in a letter.

C. Important to stay on message.

1. Limit communication to one topic or closely related set of topics per visit, letter, phone call, etc. (like SALT’s package of related budget amendments).

2. Do not bring in personal concerns, unrelated topics, even other issues that SALT may support.  Stay focused. Including additional issues makes your message too diffuse, causes legislators to wonder what you really want. Use separate communications for unrelated topics.

D. Important to know your audience.

1. Research your legislator’s background, voting record, and staff members. Find out your legislator’s position on SALT’s priorities, and tailor your message accordingly.

a. If your legislator is a patron or co-patron, write to thank him/her. Don’t take supportive legislators for granted – they may need our advocacy to justify backing our priorities to other constituents.

b. If your legislator is not a patron or co-patron, write to urge him/her to co-patron the bill or budget amendment SALT is pushing.

2. Think about what legislators need from constituents: money, votes, credible information, appreciation. We can help with the latter three.

IV. Focus on one particular method of delivering our message, since it can be so effective: a personal visit to a legislator.

A. Advance preparation:

1. Learn what you can about your legislator.

2. Know the facts about SALT’s proposals.

3. Write a letter of introduction.

a. Explain who you are, whom you represent (both SALT and a broader coalition of groups like VIC working on the same issues), what you want to meet about. Include a copy of the relevant fact sheets on SALT’s issues.

B. The visit itself:

1. Bring additional copies of the fact sheets to leave with the legislator or staff member, but don’t use them as a script. Fact sheets tell the what of our advocacy; the goal of your meeting is to convey the so what, to show the legislator why he/she should care about the issues.

2. Need to put a human face on your message. Use examples, anecdotes, a vivid image, supporting facts, personal experience.

a. Make it easier for legislator to explain his/her votes to other constituents, who may relate better to the idea of helping their neighbors or children than to statistics.. Help the legislator see the problems we’re trying to address through the eyes of real fellow Virginians.

1. Gives the legislator a point of reference and hopefully sparks interest in our issues. If available, bring copies of news articles, editorials, etc. on the topic.

2. Time is at a premium, so cover your main points efficiently. You don’t have to go over all of your facts and arguments.

3. Legislator may try to get you off track, to talk about something he/she is more comfortable with – something good they’ve done, even past support for SALT issues. Need to be polite, acknowledge the point, but return to your main message.

C. Follow up after the visit:

1. Write the legislator thanking him/her for the meeting. Use the letter to confirm any commitments that the legislator made in the meeting. Offer to provide any additional information the legislator may want. If have some new information to share – e.g., a recent news story or editorial – include it with your letter.

Good luck – thank you for your advocacy on behalf of those in need!

The following points may be helpful when contacting legislators:

Letters to Public Officials:

  • Focus on one issue. Use the bill number if possible
  • Be personal. Do not use a form letter, but rather adapt it.
  • Be positive and constructive
  • Describe any personal experience you have.
  • Ask questions that require a response.
  • Enclose informational materials, if you have any.
  • Write a thank-you note if a legislator votes with you.
  • Write a polite letter of disappointment if they don't.

Telephone Calls or Visits to Public Officials:

  • Begin with a warm introduction (Give your name address and faith affiliation).
  • Focus on one or two issues.
  • Be brief & concise.
  • Indicate your position (Use the bill number if possible).
  • Leave written materials (SALT fact sheets).
  • Conclude on a positive note. (Keep the door open to future dialogue.)
  • Write a thank-you note reiterating your position.

More Tips on Advocacy

Some Habits of Highly Effective Social Justice Groups

The following items seem to separate the most effective social justice committees from the average:

1) FOCUSED ON JUSTICE: They focus on getting citizens to understand the root causes of poverty, NOT on running the largest number of charitable projects possible.

2) EDUCATING FOR ACTION: They believe that conversation of the heart without an action response is simply not enough.

3) IN FOR THE HAUL: They are always grooming new leaders and delegating responsibilities to various members. They celebrate who they are and what they are doing.

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