1. The Staff can be the Key to a Great Relationship.
If you make an appointment and are told you will be meeting with the Chief of Staff or another aide, don’t be disappointed. The COS has the legislator’s ear, so make him your friend. When you visit, being a local librarian with you. They know the local issues, and they are voters.
2. Do Your Homework.
Find out on which committees your legislator serves. See what bills he/she has introduced. You can find a wealth of information on your state’s webpage devoted to the legislature. If you see that they have introduced bills pertaining to autism or veterans’ issues, be sure to discuss what services your library offers in those areas.
Many legislators are simply unaware of all of the services that libraries offer and are stunned (and delighted) to hear that we offer downloadable e-books for free, DVD’s, and a host of computer classes and fabulous programs. Be sure to mention free services, such as your state’s Talking Book & Braille Center and its FREE services, because chances are good that your legislator has a family member who could use those services. So, even though you are there on an “official” visit, it’s still appropriate, and helpful, to make a personal connection.
Visit year-round to develop relationships before a crisis develops. Sell the message constantly invite them to events and offer a photo opportunity.
3. (Dysfunctional Cat)
Be sure to tell the legislator everything your library does on the issue near and dear to him/her. Unemployed constituents seek help from their legislators every day, and if you can offer the legislator a place where he can send his constituent for help, you will be golden. If you can recount a story about a customer who came into your library looking for work and describe how the library helped him get an interview or a job, that’s the most powerful way to demonstrate your library’s importance to the community and the economic recovery.
4. Know the Issues and Count on Your Friends for Help
Call your state library or your state’s library association to find out what bills they are supporting. Don’t assume that legislators know about your issues inform them. Get endorsements and resolutions supporting libraries from other groups (i.e., Women’s Clubs). Don’t just invite library directors invite front-line staff who have great stories to tell, or personal relationships with the legislators. They are always happy to be included.
5. Make the Ask and Follow-Through.
Ask for what you want. Be brief and to the point. Emphasize the outcomes. If you request that the legislator support a bill, call back and see if he/she has signed on to the bill or agreed to act as a sponsor. Follow up the visit with a thank you. Work on making this an ongoing relationship send him/her periodic updates about library news that is pertinent to the legislator’s interests. Create a “Google Alert” with your legislator’s name and congratulate him/her on accomplishments.
These steps can be used when meeting with your Mayor, Board of Freeholders, or any major stakeholder. Familiarize yourself with what they value and relate your library’s services to those areas. Maintain relationships with your stakeholders year-round as they are integral to your survival.
6. Keep it Simple
Keep written materials simple: attention spans are short.
7. Plan Ahead
Have an advocacy plan, including handouts, visits, events/rallies, e-mail/postcard campaigns, scripts with talking points, an advocacy website, tips on using media (op-eds, editorials, etc.), spokespersons.
Be professional, be informed and be passionate. Your efforts will pay off.