Establishing relationships with decision makers lays the foundation for pursuing public policy objectives that further the food allergy mission. In order to be effective advocates, citizens must become acquainted with their elected officials and cultivate relationships with them and their staff through a series of contacts over time.
Background: Who Are Your Elected Officials?
As leaders in their communities, lawmakers are easy to research. Most legislators have websites that reveal their personal and professional backgrounds as well as their views on various issues. For federal legislators, congress.gov offers access to the individual website as well as information on legislation. To find information on your state legislature, its membership and legislation, the National Conference of State Legislatures serves as a clearinghouse.
Here are some of the characteristics to note about legislators and their districts:
- Personal history (e.g., family, religion, education)
- Professional history (e.g., occupation, political background, legislative committee assignments)
- Characteristics of the legislator’s constituency (e.g., rural, urban or suburban; economic status)
- Principal influences in the legislator’s state or district (e.g., labor, business, government)
- Types of political ties to any party organization and sources of campaign funding
- Margin of victory in the legislator’s last election
Connections: How Do You Forge a Relationship?
There are many opportunities to cultivate personal connections with legislators and their staff. If you haven’t already, it is advisable to lay the foundation for the relationship in a “get acquainted” meeting where you introduce yourself and your food allergy work in the community, and follow up through a series of contacts. Here are some suggestions for how to connect with your elected officials:
- Attend a town hall meeting and introduce yourself as a constituent
- In a letter or meeting, describe the issues and programs conducted by FARE.
- Schedule a personal meeting when the legislator is back in the community
- Attend open official functions where you can be seen and express interest in the legislator’s work
- Invite the legislator to your support group or fundraising event to meet with you, your co-workers and volunteers
- Invite the legislator to speak at a FARE event.
- Inform a legislator of possible media coverage when he/she attends an event – and let the media know if they are attending.
- Volunteer to serve as a resource for educating the legislator on food allergy issues
- Offer to link individuals in the legislator’s constituency to FARE’s support programs
- Express appreciation and provide recognition for your legislator’s efforts and leadership
- Demonstrate an understanding of the issues faced by legislators in their states or districts
- Get to know the legislator’s staff – legislators depend on them and act on their suggestion.
Politics is people, and relationships with people are the key to lobbying success!