Advocacy 101 - The Basics

A special thanks to Kay Castillo, Director of Advocacy, Policy & Legislation, of the
National Association of Social Workers North Carolina Chapter (NASW-NC) for
allowing us to use many of the resources for their Social Work Advocacy Day.

The most important part of NCOHC's Oral Health Day is meeting with your Representative and Senator!  We know that meeting with your legislators can feel intimidating if you have never met with them before.  We recommend building a relationship with your legislator to help ease your nerves and we are here to help you learn how to do this in 5 simple steps.

  1. Identify who your legislators are.
  2. Email your legislators.
  3. Call your legislators.
  4. Schedule an in-person meeting.
  5. Follow up with them - this is an important part of the relationship building!

Step 1:  How should i find my legislator?

The first step in building a relationship with your legislator is learning who represents you. You are searching for two different people here- one is your House Representative and the second is your NC Senator. It is easy to look up your legislators:

  • Go to http://www.ncleg.net/ (Legislative Homepage).
  • On the right hand side of the page, you will see a tab entitled “Who Represents Me?”
  • Once you click on the tab, you will be taken to a page where you can locate your districts. Please follow the instructions on this website.
  • If you are still having difficulty finding who represents you, contact the NCOHC staff at NCOHCinfo@foundationhli.org.

Step 2:  How should I first contact my legislator?

Email your legislator.  This is the easiest step to build that relationship; reaching out via email.
Most of us spend too much time sending emails anyway, what is one more to your legislator? To help break the ice with your legislator, send him or her a quick email that tells who you are and what you do in their community - working in an agency or going to school. Here are some tips to writing an effective email:

  • Always fill in the subject line with a topic so that your legislator knows what to expect when they open it (and so they know it is not spam).
  • Always specify what you’re writing about- wanting to schedule a meeting, concerns about a bill, concerns about a problem you see in the district, etc.
  • Don’t use ALL CAPITALS (no shouting!).
  • As a general rule, PLZ avoid textspeak (abbreviations and acronyms): you may be ROFLOL (rolling on the floor laughing out loud), but your reader may be left wondering WUWT (what’s up with that).
  • Be brief and polite.
  • Add a signature with appropriate contact information (in most cases, your name, business address, and phone number, along with a legal disclaimer if required by your company).
  • Edit and proofread before hitting “send.” You may think you are too busy to sweat the small stuff, but unfortunately your legislator may think you are just careless and not someone they should rely on for helpful information.

This email is the first impression that your legislator will have of you. Make sure you make it a good one! Be sure to include:

  • Who you are.
  • Where you are from.
  • What roles you fill (don't be afraid to say where you work or if you are a caregiver for a child or parent).
  • Purpose to the email: Mention if you are attending NCOHC's Oral Health Day OR mention an event you wish to invite them to at your agency or school.
  • Contact information for future correspondence.

You can use the following example to help you draft your first email:
Dear Representative OR Senator (last name):  I am a registered voter in (City, County, District) and I am also a  (your job or role ) at (place and location).  I realize you are faced with many tough decisions as you work to represent our district and I hope to speak with you about some of the concerns  I see in our community's district. I will be participating in Oral Health Day at the Legislature hosted by the NC Oral Health Collaborative on (insert date). I hope I will be able to discuss some of my concerns with you at that time.  I will be calling you in the near future to set up a time that works for your schedule.
I look forward to speaking with you.

Sincerely,
(Your Name)

Step 3:  How to Call your state legislature without getting tongue-tied, brushed off, or hung up on.

Call your legislator. You first sent an email to your legislator. Maybe you heard back from them within a few days and maybe not depending on how busy their schedules are. Regardless, pick up the phone and call them! Do this to set up an time to meet with your legislator when you come to town for Oral Health Day.
Contacting your local Representative and Senator can be intimidating if you are not prepared!  These are a few tips to help you make contact with your legislators, make your views known as a constituent, and hopefully build a positive relationship with them.  And remenber, they represent/work for you!

  • Get the office telephone numbers from the NC General Assembly website at www.ncleg.net.  This site contains all the contact information for each representative and state senator in their Raleigh office and their home district office.  Find your legislator in the drop down box labeled “View Member Info” in the top right hand corner.
  • Do your homework: find out the correct pronunciation of their name! Nothing is more embarrassing than discovering you’ve mangled the name of the person you’re trying to establish rapport with.
  • Find out which committees your representatives serve on, which bills they have sponsored or co-sponsored, and their voting histories on issues important to you.  This will give you an idea on their positions regarding issues you want to discuss.  You can find out this information at www.ncleg.net and find your legislator in the drop down box labeled “View Member Info” in the top right hand corner.
  • If possible, find out the name of the administrative assistant or secretary and try to develop a pleasant relationship; they are the gatekeepers to their bosses’ access!
  • Write out the gist of your ideas before you call so that you will be organized, succinct, and on point.  Your legislator’s time is limited and valuable so get to the point quickly!
  • Do a few practice runs with a friend who can critique your delivery or record yourself and play it back.

Now you’re ready to call!  Here is an example of a phone conversation:
Introduce yourself to the person answering: “Hello, I’m [your name] from Representative [Legislator’s last name]  district. I would like to speak with him/her about the importance of oral health in our community. Are they available now to take my call?”
If the response is Yes, once your representative is on the line, repeat your introduction and give a brief reason why they should care about oral health and how it impacts their constituents.  As an oral health advocate, you can speak to how oral health impacts you or the community directly or indirectly.
If the response is No, ask the legislative assistant when the legislator will be available to receive constituent calls, and say that you will call back during that time frame.  Make sure to thank them for their time.

Step 4:  How to set up an in-person meeting.

You've emailed your legislator.  You've called them on the phone.  Now visit them in-person at Oral Health Day!  Here's how to plan for that visit.
How do I schedule an in-person meeting with my legislator?
Simply give their office a call and schedule a meeting with their assistant or email them with some dates and times in the body of the email.  They should reply to email or voice message in a reasonable amount of time to confirm a date for the meeting.  If you do not receive a response within about a week you can send a follow up email or make another call.  Be sure to mention your first attempt to reach them.
How should I dress to speak with my legislator?
Professional dress IS required to attend Oral Health Day and should be worn when meeting with your legislator any other time as well.
The best way to think about business casual is: What would you wear to an interview?
For Women: Wear a reasonable length skirt or dress not more than 2 inches above your knees.  It sounds picky, but your legislator will perceive it as professional; dress pants are also acceptable; no sleeveless tops; your outfit should not be too tight or show cleavage; shoes should be comfortable to walk in but no open-toed shoes, such as flip-flops, should be worn.
For Men: Dress pants; shirt with a collar (dress shirt or polo); belt; dress shoes and socks (no open-toed shoes or sneakers) are all acceptable articles of clothing.  A blazer and tie are also acceptable, though not required.
Where do I park the day of the event?
While there is parking available on the street, there is also parking available in the Museum parking lot (at the corner of Jones and Wilmington St.) adjacent to the legislative building.  Please note that you will have to pay to park so be prepared to bring cash or a credit card to pay!  You can find more information from the General Assembly’s website: http://www.ncleg.net/CitizenGuide/CitizenGuide.html
Alternatively, you can park near Marbles Kids Museum where we’ll be meeting for our lunch and debrief.  More parking information can be found at Marbles Kids Museum Directions & Parking web-page.
Where can I find places to eat?
Lunch will be provided by NCOHC and located at the Marbles Kids Museum (201 E Hargett St, Raleigh, NC 27601).  There will be signs outside the building pointing you toward the exact room.  There is a side entrance available, so you do not have to enter in the main doors. 

Should you have any other questions regarding Oral Health Day or planning a meeting with your legislator, please do not hesitate to contact NCOHCinfo@foundationhli.org.

Step 5:  Advocate and Appreciate - Don't forget to say Thanks!

Follow Up. After visiting your legislator in person- say thanks and push your message one more time.
You’ve done your part to make Oral Health Day successful: you emailed and called in advance and met with your elected official on Advocacy Day.  Hopefully you found common ground for discussion with them and have forged a positive relationship for future opportunities to engage.  Now comes the icing on the cake: saying thanks!  It sounds like a no-brainer: of course you’d express appreciation for anyone who extended themselves on your behalf, right?  However, many people forget to follow up with a simple “Thank you” within a few days of an important meeting.  Your courtesy and appreciation of the time extended to you by your legislator will go a long way to make a positive impression and ensure the same attention to you the next time you contact their office!  This is also a good time to invite your legislator to your agency or school. 

Not sure what to say or the proper format?  We will provide thank you cards and sample letter verbiage for you to write these thank you notes during our luncheon debrief.  NCOHC staff will also mail these letters, no charge to you, on your behalf.  Don’t forget to check for spelling and grammar, and make sure you have the correct contact information to mail your letter.  An emailed “thank you” is better than nothing, but a neatly typed and well formatted note will make you remembered!  Keep in mind this is a SAMPLE letter.

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Representative/Senator/Legislative Staff Member:

I would like to thank you for meeting with me during the Oral Health Day hosted by the NC Oral Health Collaborative (NCOHC) on (insert correct date).  I appreciate the opportunity to share our position on (issue/s discussed).  I hope we can count on your support as an oral health equity advocate.  As we discussed, (recap BRIEFLY the information you discussed during your meeting).  Once again, thank you for your time.  If I can provide you with additional information on this or any other issue, please contact me at (your number) or the Director of NCOHC at 919-821-0485 ext. 233.  NCOHC and I look forward to working with you on this issue.

Sincerely,
Your name
Your School or Agency Position

Additional Information

How much does it cost?  Oral Health Day and lunch are FREE!

Helpful Resources

Advocacy Dos and Don’ts

Find your Legislator

NC General Assembly Website: Visiting the State Legislative Complex