SCACPA Advocacy: How to Talk to Legislators and Other Key People
Best Practices for SCACPA Chapter Leaders and Members
Getting to know your local legislators is critical as the SCACPA Advocacy Team looks to strengthen our communication relationships in 2020. Here are tips and strategies to put SCACPA members at ease in opening a dialog – even if you’re not exactly a social butterfly.
HOW TO GET STARTED
- To find your legislators’ contact information, use the “Find Your Legislator” tool at www.scstatehouse.gov/legislatorssearch.php
- Develop a “grapevine” strategy that assigns CPAs in every Chapter to the appropriate legislators
- Chapter Leaders should make a point to know the Legislative Delegation Chair from each respective county
- Become aware of which legislators in the Chapter area are in key leadership roles
- Find a way to connect with them in their hometowns as opposed to Columbia
- Depending on the relationship, a meeting may need to be 10 minutes in their office, over a meal or as an invitee to a larger gathering
DO YOUR HOMEWORK TO LEARN ABOUT YOUR LEGISLATOR
Get to know on a personal level who is making the decisions in your Chapter area.
- Where did they grow up?
- How long have they lived in the area?
- Figure out their personal interests (you may be surprised to find you share hobbies or common interests) by simply reading their www.scstatehouse.gov bio
- Take notice and thank everyone who has helped you and SCACPA
Legislators are overbooked and can never make it to everything they are asked. This makes it critical that we cultivate local personal contacts.
- Be mindful of legislator’s time – a 5- to 10-minute visit is perfect
- It can be embarrassing to mix up a legislator’s title, so remember to call Senators a “Senator,” House members a “Representative,” and a Congressman/Congresswoman “Congressman/Congresswoman”
- Is the legislator a committee Chairman/Chairwoman? A finer point is to call him or her “Chairman/Chairwoman (Last Name)” because it proves you’ve done your homework on their responsibilities
- Be positive and assume your legislators can be allies (they probably are!)
DEVELOP A YEAR-ROUND RELATIONSHIP
Advocacy is about cultivating relationships for the long run. Why is it important to interact with elected decision-makers regularly? Because when you have an issue to discuss, you already have established a relationship.
- Visit their offices at least once a year, and make your visits brief
- Visit the newly elected. Introduce yourself and your relationship with SCACPA
- Attend local campaign events, they are often affordable or free
- If you see them at a social event, reintroduce yourself; they will start to remember that they’ve seen you active in the community
- Add their names to mailing lists and invite them to your CPA social and networking events
- Introduce them at events, or give them special greetings upon arrival
- Let your legislator know you appreciate what he or she has done at your request or on SCACPA’s behalf
- Thank them for their overall service and support
WHEN ‘MAILING IT IN’ IS A GOOD THING
To write to your legislator, first know whether he or she is a Senator or Representative. Address the letter to:
The Honorable (official’s First and Last Name)
State Representative OR State Senator
And although it might seem old-fashioned, hand-written Thank You notes are still appreciated.
RESEARCH YOUR ISSUE SO YOU’RE SEEN AS AN AUTHORITY
SCACPA will be glad to load you up with information on a specific issue. Every time you try to persuade someone that your issue is important, you must have facts, statistics and personal narratives to back up your story.
Be useful to legislators as a source of correct information. Do not guess at answers. If you do not know, promise to locate information and follow through.
THE VALUE OF PERSONAL NARRATIVES
You know your business and your story, so embrace it and be confident. This is typically the most relaxing way to communicate with legislators, especially if you don’t regularly engage with legislators.
As valuable as it is to research facts and figures about an issue, real life is not a Power Point presentation. Do not underestimate the value of your personal story.
When speaking with legislators, it is hard for them to refute a real, live person standing in front of them who is directly affected by an issue. Your voice is powerful, use it!
OTHER RULES OF THE ROAD
In developing and maintaining relationships with public officials, keep in mind:
Personal Relationships – Officials respond more positively to people they know than to strangers.
Constituent Power – Officials are most responsive to registered voters from their own district.
Human Relationships – Officials are people first, officials second. Approach them in a cooperative, non-adversarial manner and be positive and polite. Treat their opinions with respect.
Elected Officials NEED to Hear from You – Hundreds of bills are introduced each year. It is impossible for a legislator to study them all. They rely on constituents, organizations and lobbyists to familiarize themselves with the many bills.
Don’t Overwhelm your Legislator with Information – Keep your conversation concise and easy to understand. Avoid workplace jargon that’s familiar to members of your organization but might be unfamiliar to the legislator (e.g., tax conformity. “Conforming to what?”).
Timing is Everything – Familiarize yourself with the deliberate nature of the State House’s decision-making process. No legislator appreciates hearing from you the night before the bill is scheduled for a vote.
Never Make it Personal – If it so happens the legislator opposes the SCACPA position, don’t attack the legislator or others who oppose it. Simply stick to the issues.
Keep an Open Mind about Opponents – Regard those who oppose you not as enemies but as temporary adversaries. Coalitions are always shifting, so the legislators and advocacy groups opposing us today might bail us out tomorrow.
Listen, Listen, Listen – If the legislator opposes the SCACPA position yet offers good points, acknowledge them rather than knocking their overall stance. Politely point out what you see as flaws, then give reasons why your proposal is better.
Saying “Thank You for Your Help” Always Goes a Long Way – And you’re welcome for that advice
Always Tell the Truth – In the immortal words of Mark Twin: “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
Have Fun!! – With every interaction, you’re working to make a better South Carolina for yourself and your community. Your passion and expertise are appreciated. We wish you good luck as you help our cause!
The SCACPA Advocacy Team, January 2020