Effective Communication for Advocacy

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Grassroots Advocacy Lessons

I just participated in GoRail’s grassroots political advocacy training and thought I’d pass along some of the main points. This is good stuff, helpful in making your voice more effective, which will help our cause.

Three main points:

- All Politics is Local (the representative cares about how it will effect their district)

- QUALITY of communication is important (be concise and focused)

- Build a long-term relationship

Additionally, the training touched on the methods of influence: letters, media, letters to the editor, meetings with staffers and representatives . . . all the time focusing on the end-goal, how that goal will help the representatives district, and what to ask specific people for to achieve the goal.

It was Tip O’Neil who said, “All politics is local.” Representatives are voted in by folks from their district and as they are busy, they focus on what is essential, which is listening first to people from their district and working on their concerns. Thus it is important to let your representative know you are from their district and that the issue you are addressing affects their district. Their may be a point of leverage in this regard, as the train might support other local concerns (travel options help economic development, for example or help families stay in touch when children move away). How it affects you personally will personify how it will affect other people too and help the representative to understand the issue. So don’t talk of the virtues of the new equipment – talk about how your own travel to your aunt in New York will be a better experience. Whatever you say will have more power if you can relate it down to how it will impact the representative’s district.

Representatives are deluged, so the more effectively you can communicate, the more impact you will have. There are some principals of effective communication (discovered by direct marketers) that are worth knowing. Most important is to be concise and focused. Say in one sentence why the issue matters (locally, to the district and to you) and what you want. The rest of your communication supports that (or, potentially, adds some gracious personal connection). Don’t ramble on, as your message will get lost. Bringing up more than one issue dilutes your effectiveness. It’s proven that keeping to one issue is more effective (as measured by direct mail sales) and less confusing.

And don’t forget you are talking to a human being, convincing them, and sharing your own human perspective. You want to get to know them over time, to appear credible, to be liked and welcomed and be helpful. Everything that makes a productive working relationship. Be gracious and positive. Not demanding. You are not a customer. They are not “The Government.” Also, they may have staff who are also human and who can be your ally. As much as you know about the person, staff or representative, will help you in communicating in a way that is easiest for them to understand and embrace.

E-mail is the main communication method for representatives, but a nice handwritten letter will stand out (handwritten is better than printed – it shows your humanity and attention) and a phone call will allow an exchange and perhaps create more of a relationship. Timing helps (ie, just before the vote, so they are thinking about what you’ve said when they make up their mind).

Letters to the editor are particularly effective and are read by representatives.

It’s very important to personalize communication and make it original. You have more credibility than the repetition of what some organization said. At the same time, it is very helpful to have a unity of message in regards to what you are asking for. Internal disagreement made public means that representatives don’t know what to do or who to believe. When the message is confused it is far less effective.

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We work in affiliation with Trainriders/Northeast, the regional rail advocates group which conceived and initiated the "Downeaster" Amtrak service from Boston to Maine.  To join Trainriders Northeast,click here

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