Make Your Voice Heard: Guidelines for Effective Advocacy
Advocates for individuals with criminal records often encounter unfair policies and practices that hinder rather than help their clients. Changes to such policies in the form of rules, regulations and laws, often require the support and commitment of legislators, political leaders and other policy makers. The following are some guidelines on how to be an effective advocate and communicate your message. Remember that efficiency requires education, both your own and your audiences, as well as reliability, accessibility and persistency.
Identify Your Goal
- What do you want to accomplish? For example, decide if you want to introduce legislation to change a discriminatory employment practice like lifting a particular occupational bar or licensing restriction for people with criminal records.
Develop Your Strategy for Accomplishing Your Goal
- Who has the power to effect your desired change? What is the process for the policy or regulatory change that you want to make and who has the power to make it. It could be legislators on the local, state or federal level, or perhaps, appointed commissioners on the state level who are responsible for promulgating the particular rule or regulation.
- Who are your partners? Identify organizations and individuals that may share your goal and who can help you communicate your message. These may be local or statewide residents, coalitions of individuals and/or groups, as well as community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and other advocacy groups.
- What is the timeline for your goal? Be aware of legislative timelines, such as when the legislature is in session. Be patient, understand that achieving your goal could take a considerable amount of time.
Create Documents that Will Help You Communicate Your Message
- Are your documents clear and concise? Politicians, policy makers and other officials, and their staff, are busy and often do not have time to read a lot of information. However, supplying them with written information that includes data and research on your issue may support your position. Therefore, make sure that the written materials that you provide them with are specific to the issue and the area that they represent.
Helpful Tips for Conducting a Meeting
- When introducing yourself make sure that you identify yourself as a constituent or as someone who represents constituents.
- State the point of the meeting at the beginning.
- Be brief and to the point.
- Listen as well as talk during the meeting, as well as take notes on questions or concerns that come up during the meeting.
- Be honest. Acknowledge the positive and negative aspects of the issue.
- Share written materials during the meeting, if it is appropriate, and leave them behind for the leader of the staff that you are meeting with to read.
Cultivate a Champion
- Who can represent and advocate for your issue publicly and champion your goal? It can be incredibly beneficial to have a public figure, such as a famous person or politically powerful person, to help you with your advocacy and to deliver the message you need to achieve your goal. Regardless of who it is they need to be persistent, charismatic and effective.
Most importantly, don’t burn any bridges, whether you achieve your goal or not. You never know who you may need to work with again. Be a gracious winner or loser.