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COVID-19 has changed nearly everything about the way Alaska nonprofits are meeting mission. We are innovating in how we deliver our programs and services – exploring new options for fundraising – changing the way we manage our human and financial resources – working differently to better leverage our partnerships – and so much more.
However, the why of our work has not changed. The need for nonprofit advocacy also has not changed. In fact, during this pandemic it is more important than ever before. It is critical that nonprofits keep in touch with their local governments, state legislators, the Alaska executive branch, and our congressional delegation. We are all looking for new ways to engage with policy makers because of COVID. Since in-person meetings with elected officials and staff will be exceedingly difficult in the next few months, we must engage virtually. We cannot wait until COVID is behind us to talk to our policy makers.
The foundation of successful nonprofit advocacy has not changed. The most important aspect of advocacy is building relationships with policy makers. A good first step is to connect with legislators who have been reelected. For those new to their office, reach out and congratulate them on their win. And don’t wait until January to make these contacts. You have a much better chance of reaching legislators while they are still in their districts. You can find a contact list for current members of the legislature here. The list for the 2021-2022 legislature will be available soon.
When you talk with elected officials and their staff (and that staff relationship can be just as important as the one with the legislator), make sure they understand your mission and that you want to be a resource for them, especially when they are crafting legislation that may impact your organization. The more you engage with your legislators, the better the chance they will reach out to you when they need data, a story, an opinion, or a sounding board. Before talking with them, send any relevant materials about your organization. Tell your story and share your data, making sure you have your facts and figures in order.
Advocacy does not have to be more difficult during the pandemic. In fact, it may be easier to reach more policy makers with your message. There are several ways to do this effectively. The most obvious virtual platform that we have all been using for the past nine months is Zoom, or some equivalent. Although we may feel Zoom fatigue, it is still a way for you to have a real-time, back and forth discussion. Again, ask your legislators how they would like you to communicate with them. It is possible that the state and legislature will use their own virtual platform or prefer a simple phone call.
Prepare for the meeting by sending the legislator any material you want them to review in advance. That material could include your mission statement, a list of your board members, or even a short power point presentation on the topic you want to discuss. Make sure you know how long the call will last. You do not want to be only halfway through your presentation when the time is up. Once the call is over, send a follow-up email or letter thanking them for their time, emphasizing your message and the points your discussed, and reminding them that you are a resource for them.
Remember, you do not have to be the only one who reaches out to policy makers. If you have an issue you want to resolve or a piece of legislation you want passed or defeated, ask your stakeholders, board members, clients, and funders to assist. You can also reach out to select community members and opinion leaders to help get your message across.
Depending on COVID restrictions in your area, you may be able to plan a COVID-safe visit with your legislator in their district. You may also be able to invite a legislator to visit your organization. If an in-person meeting is not feasible, consider putting together a “virtual tour” of your organization and post it on YouTube, or some other appropriate site.
If you have questions about virtual advocacy, please do not hesitate to contact us. Watch for future Advocacy in Action sessions that will keep you updated on what is happening at the local, state, and federal levels, as well as learn about opportunities to enhance your own virtual advocacy.