Become a More Effective Advocate

Would you like to see better things happening for children, youth and families?  Are you interested in being a part of the change?
Sometimes we want BIG changes.  To make these changes, we need to change programs that impact our children and our community.
  • Sometimes programs that are supposed to help people just don’t.  They don’t make sense because the people making the decisions aren’t the one’s using the programs.
  • Sometimes there just isn’t enough to go around and everyone who needs a service can’t access it.
  • The people making the decisions need to hear from people who know what you know and have experienced what you’ve experienced – yourself, with your children, with your family, with your neighborhood.  You know what could be done differently to make things better.
 We can be a part of the change.  In fact, we already have most of the tools that we need to influence policy-making and policymakers.  We all influence people every day – our children, parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, spouses, and many others.  This is advocacy.  We can use those same skills to influence the policymakers who can make the big changes that we want.  That is policy advocacy.

 

Here is what we need to know to help make the BIG changes that will benefit our children, families, and communities.
Because policymakers need us. They really need our help – they need our vote, and they need to know what we know about making things work better.  Without our help, policies may not fix the problem.
Because it doesn’t take that many of us. State legislators suggest that it takes about a dozen phone calls, letters, emails or meetings with constituents to get them to take notice of an issue of concern.
Because that’s how things work. A democratic government comes with responsibilities. We make rules for ourselves and support public services by electing officials and then holding those officials accountable for the actions they take or don’t take.
We can make change happen.  We can use local and state level policy advocacy to improve our communities.  We are all very busy.  We have families.  We have school and jobs.  We have a lot of responsibilities.  We can impact changes in ways that fit with our lives.  Keeping informed about advocacy opportunities in Michigan and keeping connected to other advocates helps to strengthen our voices for change.
We all are experts in our own life experience, and policymakers need to hear our stories.  We already know the issues that matter to us, and we are already experts about our own work and life.  Oftentimes, we already know the solutions that would help alleviate some of the issues affecting our children, youth, families, and communities.  Sometimes when we learn more about our issue (like education reform, child care or neighborhood safety), it helps us link with other people who share the same concerns.
Learn more about the issues that Michigan’s Children is currently focused on by visiting our Policy Opportunities pages.
To influence public policy, we need to understand who has the power to change policies.  We have to get to know the people who are making the decisions.  They are representing YOU on your city council, your county commission, local school boards, in Lansing, and in Washington, DC.  As a voter, you are the boss.  Building a relationship with the individuals who represent us will help us become better “bosses” and more effective advocates.  Here are a few ways you can build a relationship with your elected officials:
  • Sign-up for your elected officials’ electronic communications,
  • Visit their coffee hours in their district,
  • Set-up meetings with them in your community,
  • Invite them to visit your program,
  • Let them know that you are a resource, AND
  • That you are paying attention to the way that they are voting.
 Don’t know who your elected officials are?  Find out by visiting the League of Women Voters website.
Still not sure what to do?  Check-out this easy guide on how you can build a better relationship with your elected officials.
Understanding the policy-making process and the best time to target policymakers can help you be more influential.   Just like you would connect with a friend on a regular basis to keep connected on the potentially exciting and challenging events that your friends may be going through, you should do the same with your elected officials.  Connecting regularly with your legislators is a great way to keep them informed on the issues that matter to you, understand what they are currently identifying as priorities, and better understand how and when to influence them.
It is a misnomer that the most influential time for individuals to connect with their policymakers on a particular topic is when action is taking place on a particular piece of legislation.  Instead, making sure that your legislators already understand the issues that matter to you, your family, and your community will ensure that when legislation is moving on those issues; your legislator will already be well-informed on the matter and can reach out to you if s/he needs further guidance on the bill being debated.
When you don’t already have a relationship with your policymaker, there is still strength in numbers — particularly when legislators hear from many constituents on the same issue.  Sign-up for Michigan’s Children’s Action Networks to stay updated on timely advocacy opportunities as they impact Michigan’s most challenged children, youth and families.
When you use what you know and tell it to the people who are in the position to change things, great things can happen!  We have a lot of power to make changes happen, especially when we talk clearly, give solutions and understand what influences the people who can make change.  Knowing what would really fix the problems you are facing in your neighborhood helps us get our message across.  Getting to know your elected officials better helps us put together the best argument to move our issues forward — at the right time with the best messenger talking about our issues in a way that will resonate and influence with our legislators.
See our one-pager with key points to consider as you develop an advocacy strategy.
View our advocacy presentation to learn more about strategically influencing policymakers.
Interested in budget advocacy?  Learn about the state budget process and how to get involved in this Budget Basics brief.
Watch this ten-minute “Lightning Talk” by Senior Policy Associate Mina Hong that was given at Central Michigan University’s 2015 Shifting Mindsets: Early Childhood Summit on strategic engagement with policymakers.
Thinking about engaging the media in your efforts?  Read Communications Consultant Teri Banas’s blog on why connecting your voice to the media is important and how one grandparent utilized the media to become an advocate for change.

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