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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Telling stories for legislators

I had the great honor of hosting a workshop for the Delaware Library Association last week that was pretty amazing. We spent about three hours in the morning creating strategic stories that added a personal face on the budget items the government was funding. An hour instruction, an hour writing, an hour practicing and when we they were done everyone walked away with a powerful story to share. They were able to integrate it into a thank you and an ask for more support- all in less than a two minute interaction. It was incredibly cool. One senator who had heard about the stories, asked whether they were going to do the session again next year because she wanted to be able to hear all the stories. One librarian came up to me during lunch to let me know she shared her story and felt the engagement by her elected official immediately.

I'm so psyched because I'm giving the same workshop at ALA in June and as a three part online series that SEFLIN is coordinating for the State Library of Florida under the State Library’s Leadership Program for upper and middle managers in libraries throughout the state.

*Correction 5/2/10- I had originally posted the workshops were for the Florida Library Association but they are for the State Library.

Today's advocacy is taking place in the one-on-one conversations we share with elected officials throughout the year. Here in NJ we are fighting budget cuts that would make state library services extinct if they are passed. Our library association is able to lobby and is busy talking to legislators, creating a rally to take place in Trenton on May 6 and talking to reporters.

But since libraries are government agencies, we are prohibited from lobbying and can't even share most information that comes from the Association. But even though we can't lobby, that doesn't mean we can't educate and inform. If you are like us, I can understand your frustration in not being able to rally the troops but with the right tools, education can be pretty powerful. Here's some things we are discovering:

The Team
Picking the right people to visit elected officials can be crucial. Anyone who has ever listened to Stephanie Vance knows one of the most difficult tasks on a visit is to keep the conversation on track. It is so easy for elected officials to smile, shake hands, say they love the library and then wish you well. A good visit requires a concise case and a clear ask. We have three key people who are making legislative visits for our library and even though they have a completely different personalities and styles, they are each amazing and extremely effective. One reason for that is that they know what the problem is, why it matters to the legislator and what the legislator can do to solve it. They are also informed on the issues, share results of each visit, are persistent in setting up appointments and are thorough in knowing the bills the elected officials support. They also follow up with information requests.

The Packet
The person reading the materials in your packet will only skim the words, so help them out. Create a one pager with three key elements:

1. The problem
2. Three to four bulleted reasons why to take action
3. The call to action

We include other supporting material in the packet but the one pager should state your case and offer the solution. Make sure you demonstrate what the impact will be to the elected official's voting district. Even though they may care about the big picture, they must answer to their voters in order to get reelected. Give them the information that is relevant to them.

Grassroots Movements
We have a fantastic grassroots effort going on Facebook that is led by Andy Woodworth. In a conversation with Andy he noted that he is frustrated because even though he has 12,000 + fans, he can't message more than 5,000. He also notes that keeping up on the posts to make sure the really vile ones are removed and the negative one are addressed, is almost a full time job in of itself. Of course having someone with a megaphone that can reach that many people is a huge blessing for us! While the nature of grasssroots is that it is an independent force, it is important to make sure the leaders understand your strategy, messages and call to action. Invite the leaders to meet with you and keep the lines of communication open. And most of all, listen to them. They can provide you valuable feedback as to the needs of your supporters.

Keep it positive

Wow, for three words this might be the toughest part of your advocacy efforts.
Keep the messages positive, you are communicating and building bridges. You will need to work with these people time and time again. Bad vibes have long memories.

Keep the spirit of your group positive. The emotion you drive your campaign with will be the emotion that's left after all is said and done. No matter what the outcome, if people are motivated by hate or anger they will continue with that emotion in their hearts and actions. Love wins even when battles are lost. -Nancy


~Kathy Dempsey said...

Very useful and important stuff, Nancy!!

Anonymous said...

Would you please provide more information about the sessions at ALA? Thanks!

Jen said...

You need a fourth step for your one pager. The fourth step should illustrate what success looks like. ie. If you take this action, the result will be this and this is what the outcome will look like.

Decision makers want to know what it's going to cost them and if they do as you suggest, what's it look like.


Anonymous said...

Jen- Great suggestion! -Nancy