By Donya Parrish, MCU VP- Risk Management
You may have seen some asks this year to contact your Senators or Congressman to ask them to support S. 2155 — the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. It is important for credit union voices, especially those of volunteer board members, to be heard when we are trying to advocate change. The process can be very intimidating though, especially when you don’t do it often.
One thing to keep in mind is that your message might be one in a sea of contacts they might be receiving, but it is still effective. In their Volunteer Leadership and Engagement Whitepaper, CUNA noted some basic steps to advocacy, which you can always fall back on to feel more comfortable in your message. Some steps might be more relevant to a Hill visit during GAC; but, they are all good reminders that our elected officials are human too.
When you visit or contact legislative representatives, you want to make a good impression. Keep in mind these tips:
- Be prepared. Know the representative’s stance on the issues and tailor your materials and conversations appropriately.
- Strategize. Decide a plan of attack and the desired outcomes. Appoint a primary speaker, a manager to keep your meeting on topic, and a secretary to take notes.
- Practice professionalism. Dress appropriately. Show up early. Introduce yourself confidently. Plan for meetings to start late and take longer than expected. Also, leave your business card with the staff — and request their cards as well.
- Value staff. They’re essential in the legislative process and might be more informed than legislators on a specific issue.
- Stay on point. Focus on no more than three issues. Explain how a law, rule, or policy specifically impacts people in the district. Don’t discuss elections and donations.
- Listen. Passion for an issue often leads to more talking than listening. Be concise, then pay attention to responses from representatives and staff.
- Solicit insight from your representative. Ask supporters, “How can we as constituents move this issue forward and support your stance?” Ask non-supporters, “What can we as constituents do to make this an issue you can support?”
- Keep the ball rolling. Publicize your visit on social media and through other communications. Send a thank-you note. Encourage supportive representatives to rally other legislators and to write an op-ed for a newspaper.
Change doesn’t happen successfully without the involvement of those it impacts. Having your voice heard during a legislative or rule-making process can avoid unintended consequences, as well as make sure your vital role is taken into consideration. Thank you for being willing to dip your toes in the pool to advocate for credit unions when the time comes!