I never imagined that my work would involve frequent meetings with elected officials, but that is an important part of my agenda recently. As an advocate for small businesses, I’ve had the opportunity to meet locally, in Harrisburg, Dover and Trenton as well as Washington DC. Because our bayshore neighborhood is often in the news over environmental justice and aquaculture redevelopment issues, I’ve had the opportunity to host a handful of officials here on our emerging sustainable aquaculture site at Money Island, NJ.
I suggest these tips:
- Do your homework before the meeting. Know your representative’s voting history, committee assignments and recent activity (usually available on social media).
- Open with clear simple facts.
- Paint pictures with short clear stories of how the issue affects your business or industry.
- Avoid tipping your bias on politically sensitive issues. Disregard partisan politics.
- If the issue involves problems with unelected officials, be sensitive to comments about your legislator’s willingness to get involved. Some are not willing to get involved and will tell you so. Some will tell you that they have a poor track record working with ingrained bureaucracies. That is important information even if it is not what you want to hear.
- Wrap up with a clear actionable request. If that includes asking the official to write a letter, offer to prepare the letter draft yourself. Better yet, have it drafted already and offer to send the staff the electronic version.
- If you belong to a community group with regular meetings, extend an invitation to the meeting. This is a nice way to wrap up, exit, but hold the door open for follow-up communication.
- Leave you business cards with both the representative and the staff.
- Follow up with an email and thank you card or letter.
- Connect with the representative on social media and be positive and supportive. You’d be surprised how many directly answer tweets.
- Donate to the campaign even if it is a small amount. If you donate to an industry PAC, mention that when appropriate.
I am especially grateful to the professionals at the New Jersey Society of CPAs, especially Jeff, for teaching me the basics of advocacy, to my Cape May friend Ed for emphasizing the value of diplomacy and restraint, and to my activist friend George for showing me the power of being loud and fearless. While we may never be certain of the ultimate impact of our own advocacy efforts, I now know for sure that my voice will be heard.