+ Why You Should Advocate
Legislators and their staff need information about afterschool and school-age child care issues to make educated decisions. You can help them make programs stronger and more accessible to all children and youth by educating legislators on the effects of policy on the programs you’re involved in.
- Legislators are interested in the opinions of their constituents. Legislators will take you seriously because you are not only an advocate and someone with specific on-the-ground knowledge, but, just as importantly, a constituent. As a constituent, legislators count on you to give input on how tax dollars are spent.
- We can’t afford NOT to have your legislator be informed on these important issues! Decisions by the legislature affect your programs. It’s vital that you have a say in the process that determines funding, policy and regulations for your programs.
- Nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organizations and government fund grantees are legally allowed to advocate, and educate legislators or any elected official. As a nonprofit, 501 (c)(3) organization, you are legally allowed to advocate, educate and lobby your legislator or any elected official. Grantees may also engage in advocacy. Procedures for obtaining permission vary by school district.
For more information:
- Internal Revenue Service: http://www.irs.gov/charities/charitable/aritcle/0,,id=96099,00.html
- California Fair Political Practices Commission: http://www.fppc.ca.gov/
- Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest: http://www.clpi.org/lobby_law.html
- There are a lot of different advocacy activities that you can do to make an impact! Some of these include writing a letter or calling your legislative representative, meeting with them in your home district, organizing an event at their local office, and more!
+ Communicating with Policy Makers
- Know your subject. Elected officials have limited time, staff and many competing issues to deal with every day. You can fill their information gap and be their "expert." And tell them how it will affect their district.
- Keep it short and sweet. Be specific and stay focused on your experience and what you want from your representative.
- Always tell the truth. There is nothing more valuable than credibility. And there is nothing harder to overcome if you loose that asset. So, tell the truth. If you don't know something, say so. This will give you a reason to follow up after you have researched the answer.
- Don’t burn bridges. When you feel passionate about something, it is easy to get emotional. Don't. Your adversaries today may be your allies tomorrow. Always leave a meeting on a positive note because you never know when you'll be back. Never condescend or accuse.
- Know who is on your side. Policymakers will want to know who supports your issue. They will also want to know who doesn't. Knowing the opposition's position will better prepare you to advocate your position.
- Maintain relationships with your policymaker. Even when you don't need something, always keep that relationship up. This will help you when you do need something because, at the very least, they will remember you.
- Have a follow up plan. One visit, letter or phone call will not be enough. Always follow up with another action and hold them accountable to what they told you. Find out what they did and thank them for any action they took. This will help you maintain that relationship, too.
- Be confident in your position as a constituent. Elected officials work for you. Be courteous and respectful, but don’t be intimidated.
- Ally with other organizations that share your concerns. One big voice is harder to ignore than many little voices.
- Commit to advocacy as a part of your profession. Advocacy is a job that needs continuing attention and is essential to supporting strong afterschool and school-age child care programs.
+ Types of Advocacy
It is important to have a strong statewide voice! Your representatives want and need to hear from you throughout the year. There are many types of advocacy activities you can do:
- Legislative – influencing the drafting and passage of legislation.
- Budget – influencing how funds are appropriated.
- Electoral – influencing the opinions of candidates and voters.
- Administrative – influencing how programs are administered.
- Media – influencing how media outlets cover the issues.
+ Find your Representatives
Find your Federal, State and local representatives at https://www.commoncause.org/find-your-representative
+ Site Visits
Invite your legislator to visit your site and experience the realities of your program. This will give them an opportunity to learn more about the importance and impact of your work.
Sample Site Visit Planning Timeline: Below are suggested steps and a timeline you can take to schedule a site visit with policymakers.
At least 1 month in advance:
- Find a Date. Try to find a few days when your site is holding a special event or activity that the legislator can observe or participate in during the visit. Provide options for dates and times if your first choice does not work.
- Send the Invitation Letter. Write a letter to the legislator on your organization’s letter head. Fax and mail the invitation. You can also invite the youth in your program to write letters that can be included in the packet that you mail. Within in a week, call the office to confirm receipt and status of your request.
- Be Flexible. If your legislator is not available for any of the dates you selected, ask whether a senior staff person can visit instead.
When the site visit is scheduled:
- Thanks & Confirmation. Once the date is set, send an email confirming the site visit and thank the legislator and their staff.
- Add site visit to the Capitol Morning Report. If the legislator/s themselves are confirmed for your site visit, try to get them announced in Capitol Morning Report. Normally when a policymaker does something, they publish it day before and day of. Just send an email to Morning Report: www.capitolmr.com/
- Find Speakers. Identify youth, parents, program staff, school officials and community partners who would be good advocates for your program. Try to find individuals who have compelling stories about the impact the program has had on their lives.
- Create an Agenda & Talking Points. Meet or hold a call with all speakers to create an agenda and talking points for the day and review background information about each legislator.
1 week prior to the site visit:
- Final Confirmation. Call the legislator’s office to reconfirm the site visit.
- Gather Information. Create a packet of information to give to the legislator that highlights the successes and the challenges that your program has experienced. This could include copies of awards, news articles, letters from parents, and writings or projects done by children and youth at your site.
- Final Preparation. Review the agenda and talking points with all speakers. Be sure that the children and youth are comfortable with speaking.
- Ensure the site visit is listed on the Capitol Morning Report. Just send an email to Morning Report: www.capitolmr.com/
- Find a Camera. Be prepared to take a photo with your representative to be included in newsletters or any other publication.
After the visit:
- Debrief. Meet with your group to discuss how the experience was for everyone.
- Thank Everyone. Send a letter that includes thank you notes from the youth in the program, a photo from the visit, and a flyer about upcoming events at your site. Don’t forget to send thank you notes and photos to all the participants in your group.
+ In-District Visits
Schedule a visit with your legislator at their local office at least once a year. This will help you build a relationship with your representatives that will increase your ability to influence policy.
Scheduling a legislative visit:
- Legislators are usually in their local offices on Thursdays and Fridays only. Select a few dates and times that you and a team are available to meet for aprx. 30 minutes.
- Fax a meeting request letter 2-3 weeks in advance of the proposed meeting date. The request should include an overview of your program, the reason for the visit, and the specific dates and times you would like to meet.
- Within 3 days, follow-up with a phone call to confirm that the meeting request was received and to schedule a meeting.
Preparing for the visit:
- Research your legislator.
- What party do they belong to?
- Which committees are they involved in? Are they involved in any caucuses?
- Which bills have they supported or opposed in the past?
- What issues are they passionate about?
- Did they or their children participate in an afterschool or school-age child care program?
- What are their hobbies or interests?
- Determine your talking points, agenda and team for the visit.
- Include the successes and challenges that your program has experienced.
- Highlight data and facts about your program.
- Be sure to include personal stories that connect the data to the actual people impacted by your programs.
- Have a clear ask of your legislator.
- Create a packet of information to leave with your legislator that provides an overview of your program. This could include copies of awards, news articles, letters from parents, and writings or projects done by children and/or youth at your site.
- Each member of the team should have a role in the visit. Determine who will speak based on their personal stories. When possible, prioritize personal stories from team members who are constituents from the district.
- Facilitator: The facilitator will be the point person in the meeting and will take the group through the agenda from beginning to end, starting with introductions. It is the job of the facilitator to ensure the meeting runs smoothly and efficiently by keeping time and by allowing everyone to speak. The facilitator should also ensure that the member and/or the staff do not dominate the meeting.
- Note Taker: One person should be in charge of taking good notes during the visits. It is important to write down any questions or commitments that the member or staff may share. The Note Taker should document the visit including what questions were asked, what kind of interest was expressed by the legislator, etc.
- Testimonial Speakers: Testimonial speakers provide the personal stories behind the issues. These individuals should be program staff, youth, or parents that are directly impacted by afterschool and school-age child care programs and should share their story with the legislator or staff. These stories bring a face and name to the issues that we are advocating for and personalize them for the member. Personal stories should connect to the issue points.
- The Ask: This person is responsible for recapping the issues and making “the ask.” It is their responsibility to provide any other information to support “the ask.”
Tips to Keep in Mind
- Use your Talking Points document to write down your story and plan your visits.
- Your experience with afterschool, summer and school-age child care programs is the best story to illustrate the points you would like to make.
- Highlight a fact, data point or issue point that relates to your personal experience.
- DO NOT try to cover all the points! When in doubt, opt to share a story about your experience instead of getting bogged down with statistics.
- Sometimes legislators or staff will ask why afterschool and school-age care should be more important than education, healthcare, etc. If this happens, you can acknowledge the importance of an array of issues to families and then go back to the talking points that you are there to share with the member or staff. Do not engage in a debate.
Legislative Visit Reminders
- Be polite and a good listener.
- Allow everyone in your group to say a few words.
- Be sure to stay on topic and to manage the time you are allotted properly.
- Many teams will meet with legislative staff. Don’t be disappointed! Legislators rely on their staff to educate them on the issues and brief them on the meetings.
- If you don’t know the answer to a tough question, offer to get back to the member. Pass any questions along to CalSAC to provide follow-up.
+ Write to Your Legislator
Write a letter to your legislators about legislation or funding that impacts your program. To make a bigger impact, get everyone at your program site to also write a letter. You can even hold a Letter Writing campaign!
Letter Writing Tips
If you’re unable to meet with your legislator in person, you can send a letter! Follow the guidelines below and use the template provided to get started.
- Address every elected official with the correct title. Don't confuse a California State Senator with a U.S. Senator. You'll find your letter either lost or returned to you. Visit www.leginfo.ca.gov to get the contact information for your legislators.
- Always include your address and phone number. This is required for the legislator to answer your letter. It is perhaps more important because it lets them know you live in their district.
- Be clear and specific. The easier it is to read the better. Start off with the purpose of the letter and who you are. Briefly address the issue and impact. Finish by summarizing your points. Please refer to the example letter included for a general template.
Consider the timing of the legislation. Be sure you know where a bill is at in the legislative process. The best strategy when writing about a specific bill is to commit to 5 letters, one for each committee (If you can only write one letter, send it to the originating house before it is considered in committee):
- originating house
- other house
- originating fiscal committee
- other fiscal committee
Communicate the positive. Be sure to write thank you notes to legislators for strengthening afterschool and school-age child care if they voted for a bill that supports your programs.
When writing letters to your legislator:
- Be brief and specific.
- Be your own language. Letters that are similar don’t have as much weight as original letters.
- 1st paragraph should state the reason for the letter.
- 2nd paragraph should say who you are, stress that you’re in the district, and how the issue impacts your program.
- 3rd paragraph should summarize your message and asks for follow up.
The nation's leading voice for afterschool, the Afterschool Alliance is the only organization dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of afterschool programs and advocating for more afterschool investments. The Afterschool Alliance works with the presidential administration, the U.S. Congress, governors, mayors, and advocates across the country. Today the Afterschool Alliance boasts more than 25,000 afterschool program partners and our publications reach more than 65,000 interested individuals every month.
Children NOW engages in national, state, and local research, policy and advocacy to improve the lives of kids. Children NOW is harnessing the support that already exists for kids and mobilizing it behind the issues that are critical to improving our children’s well-being. Children NOW launched the Children’s Movement of California, representing a grassroots network of business, education, parent, civil rights, faith–, community–, and ethnic–based organizations, and others, as well as thousands of individuals that can be effectively mobilized to represent children’s interests across a variety of important policy issues.
Bolder Advocacy promotes active engagement in democratic processes and institutions by giving nonprofits and foundations the confidence to advocate effectively and by protecting their right to do so. Bolder Advocacy is an initiative of the Alliance for Justice — a national association of more than 100 organizations that are united by a commitment to a fair, just, and free America where everyone has equal access to justice and can fully participate in our democracy.
Funding the Next Generation Initiative
Funding the Next Generation helps communities create measures that will fund and sustain services such as youth development, early childhood education, after-school and summer programs, health care, violence prevention, career readiness and parental support. Funding the Next Generation is helping cities and counties throughout California make a financial commitment to their children, and transfer resources toward prevention.
California Afterschool Network
The purpose of the California AfterSchool Network is to increase access to high-quality out-of-school time programs that support success for all children and youth. CAN is “of the field and for the field”, a catalyst for quality, and a one-stop communication hub providing information on tools, data, resources, policies, and practices for all out-of-school time stakeholders.
Partnership for Children & Youth
Partnership for Children & Youth is a California-based non-profit organization that finds funding, partners, and solutions to help schools better serve students; and informs state and national public policy on education issues. They serve as a bridge between the needs and experiences of the field, and the creation and implementation of policies at the local, state, and federal levels. Their policy work focuses on expanding access to and improving the quality of expanded learning programs (after school and summer) and community schools.
Child Care Law Center
The Child Care Law Center is a nonprofit firm that uses legal expertise to ensure that low-income families can access quality child care and it is the only organization in the country devoted exclusively to the complex legal issues that affect child care.
Parent Voices, a project of the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, is a parent-run, parent-led grassroots effort that works to make quality child care accessible and affordable to all families. Parent Voices works to strengthen the capacity of parents to be effective advocates for their child care concerns. The program combines leadership development, advocacy, and community organizing to achieve its goals related to increased funding, quality improvement, and better access to child care.