Advocacy 101: How to Build Relationships & Get Results

Effective advocacy is a year-round activity, and the key is building strong relationships with your legislators. There are many ways to go about building that relationship, and different actions you can take throughout the year, whether the legislature is in session or it’s summer break. Your goal is to be your legislator’s go-to resource on education issues. Advocacy is, above all, about building relationships. 

How to Start a Relationship with a Legislator

The Legislature is only in session for 3-4 months out of the year, meaning your legislator has another job and interests outside of being a lawmaker. Learn their background and what motivates them, so you can connect outside of official business. As in any other relationship in your life, establishing yourself as trustworthy and reliable will go a long way when you do have a legislative ask in the future. Some tips to get you started: 

  • Send an email to introduce yourself. Use our sample email template

  • Sign up for your legislator’s newsletter. These newsletters are a great source for issues important to your legislator and where they will be hosting local forums and events.

  • Attend a legislator’s local forum. 

  • If your legislator has social media, follow their accounts.

How to Plan & Execute an Effective Legislator Meeting

  • Know the purpose and goal of your meeting. For example: to discuss a specific piece of legislation, show them a building or program in your district, or learn more about their goals with respect to public education.
  • Know who will be attending the meeting. Will you be alone or bringing other board members, your superintendent, or students? Legislators like to know who will be there, so they can prepare.
  • Have a date, time and location prepared. Your legislator might suggest something different, but it’s important to give them a timeframe so they can easily schedule a meeting.
  • Make your arguments respectfully.
  • Allow your legislator time to speak and listen to their opinions.
  • Ask if they need any additional information from you.
  • Send a thank you email or text.
  • Let them know you are available if they have questions on anything happening in your district or need information on how legislation would affect your district.
  • If they met with students, have those students write a thank you note.

Advocacy Tips

The legislative session is busy and full of different groups vying for your legislator’s attention. It’s important to be concise and knowledgeable when meeting during the session.
  • Know the issue. That means knowing the bill number and the impact on your school district.
  • Be mindful of your legislator’s time. Go into a meeting with a plan and remain respectful of their opinion, even if it doesn’t match yours.
  • Be timely in your advocacy. When you hear about a bill or an issue, be sure to connect with your legislator as soon as possible, even if that’s a text or email. They need to hear your expertise before they decide their vote.
Advocacy doesn’t stop just because the legislature isn’t meeting in Des Moines. The interim is a perfect time to continue building a relationship with your legislator when they aren’t as busy and have more time to devote to learning about the issues impacting your school district and students.
  • In an election year, get to know the candidates running in your area. If you really like a candidate, volunteer for their campaign.
  • Thank them for any votes or stances they took the previous session that were beneficial to your district.
  • Ask them what the major education issues will be for the next session and offer to provide them any information they might need to be better informed on the issue. Legislators tend to like specific examples, numbers, and anecdotes they can share.

How to Make an Impact

Friend of Iowa Public Education Certificate

Present your legislator with a Friend of Iowa Public Education certificate. This can show your board’s appreciation for your legislator’s votes, stances or work on an issue that made a difference in your district. It provides an opportunity to publicly thank your legislator. 

Pro tip: Take a picture with your legislator when you present the award, post it on social media, and be sure to tag your legislator.

Invite Your Legislator to Your District

Show them an innovative program. Introduce them to students benefiting from legislation that they helped to pass. By seeing public schools up close, legislators will better understand the positive impacts their decisions have on students.

Pro tip: Have students be the leaders in a meeting in your district. It showcases their passion for learning and the success of programs in your district.

Share Your Advocacy with IASB

Did your district host a legislator? Do you have an innovative program or success story to share? Did you attend a local forum where education was a topic of interest? Sharing your advocacy with IASB helps our advocacy efforts as an organization as we promote the positive impacts of public schools. 

Advocacy Self-Reporting Form: Fill out this short form to further our advocacy efforts.

Additional Resources

Checklist: Before, During & After Meeting with Legislators: Use this simple checklist to ensure you get the most out of a legislator meeting. 

Issue Toolkits: For talking points, data, and impacts on the biggest legislative issues, use our issue-specific toolkits. 

Advice, Tips, and Tricks From a School Board Member

In Her Own Words:

"As a school board member, one of my roles is to advocate on behalf of our students, our district, our district staff and the community as a whole."

"When you have an established relationship, you can call when something happens quickly and you need to have your voice heard."

"Having that can-do attitude and just that positive intent of “we’re going to work together for the benefit of our students and our communities” makes a big difference."

– Angela Rheingans, Board Vice President, Central DeWitt Community Schools

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