Guidelines for Effective Advocacy

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Get to Know Your Legislators (and Their Staff!)

It is helpful to have a good understanding of your members of Congress. Learn about the issues that are most important to them before attempting to reach out to them. Learn about their backgrounds and previous experiences, their current positions on issues that matter to you (as well as those issues that are most important to them), and their current committee assignments. Getting to know staff members who cover health care issues is important; they will influence the position your legislators will take on your issue.

Learn About the Legislative Process

Understanding how a bill becomes a law is crucial when doing advocacy work. Get to know the key Committees involved in health care issues, the major players, the political climate surrounding your issues, and where you issue is in the legislative process. Has legislation been introduced? Has there been a hearing? A vote? If so, know if and how your member of Congress was involved.

Become an Expert on the Issue

Before making contact with your legislators, understand the arguments for and against the issues you are planning to raise. Make sure you consider anything that could influence your legislator's support for your position.

Tell Your Story

Why is the issue important to you? One personal story can be more influential than a large number of impersonal form letters/emails or phone calls.

Always be Polite and Respectful

It’s important to recognize that Members of Congress and their staff are very busy, so when meeting with them, be cordial, concise, and be sure to say thank you (even if they don’t agree with your position). Always be honest about the issue—never provide false information about your issue or about the opposition. Always follow up with a thank you and an offer to be a resource on cancer issues in the future.

Communicate with Your Legislator

There are a few ways to contact your legislator to advocate for the issues that matter to you.

Meeting at Your Legislator’s Office

A face-to-face meeting with your member of Congress or the member’s staff is the best way to share your concerns. Your Members of Congress are available for meetings both in Washington, D.C. and in your local area.

  • Send your request for a meeting in writing. In your request, include who you are, the name of the organization or company you are representing, possible dates and times, the issue you would like to discuss, and the number and names of all people attending.
  • If an in-person meeting is not possible, offer to meet with relevant staff or request to hold a conference call with the member.
  • Let ASCO staff know when you schedule meetings. Many times there is a pre-existing relationship with the office and ASCO staff can give you insight into your upcoming meeting.
  • Know the issue. Your greatest strength in lobbying is proving to be a credible information resource for a legislator. Become acquainted with potential opposing arguments so you can anticipate alternate viewpoints.
  • At the meeting, be on time and convey that you are a constituent. As you clearly and concisely communicate your message, remember to be brief and to the point. Ask for a response before the meeting ends
  • After the meeting, follow up with your legislator with a thank you letter and any information they may have requested. Also let ASCO know how your meeting went.

Attending a Town Hall Meeting

Legislators spend significant time in their states/districts, convening town hall meetings or attending other local events in order to hear from constituents. Attending one of these local meetings provides an opportunity to interact with your legislators in person (to locate town hall meetings visit your legislators’ websites or call the local office). If you have the opportunity to ask a question or make a comment, please take advantage of it. If there is an issue that is affecting your ability to provide care for your patients, this is a great time to bring it up!

  • When preparing for a Town Hall Meeting, find out what the meeting format is and what is on the agenda. Prepare your questions in advance and make a note of two or three points you want to cover.  Bring materials to give to the legislator in case you don’t have time to fully explain your position
  • At the Town Hall Meeting, be clear, concise and professional. If you have time, you may want to include a sentence or two about why this issue is so important. Real examples can be very influential. When you are done explaining your concern, ask the legislator if they will take action to show their support for you
  • Be sure to follow up with the legislator after the meeting via mail, email or in and in-person meeting. Provide any more information they have requested, and offer to be a resource for any issues relating to cancer care.

Hosting a Site Visit

One of the most powerful venues in which to have a meeting with your member of Congress is through a site visit. Personal stories and information are vital to making a lasting impression, and a site visit is a unique way to relay those stories and information. Just seeing your facility/practice will ensure that the legislator never looks at cancer issues the same way again.

  • Send a formal letter of invitation to either their Washington, D.C., or local district office. Be sure to include in the letter the location and size of your facility/practice and identify the specific issues you would like to discuss.
  • Once you have confirmation that the legislator has accepted your invitation, find out how much time you will have with the legislator, and whether any of his or her staff will be accompanying them.
  • When preparing for the visit develop the two or three points that you wish to convey during the visit and think about how to best make those points.
  • During the visit focus on the two or three most important issues that affect your facility/practice and your patients or staff. Remember to make your explanations personal and demonstrate how a positive or negative result will affect your ability to deliver quality cancer care.
  • Follow up with a personal thank-you letter and volunteer yourself as a resource on issues related to cancer. Keep in touch with your legislator and his or her staff.

Other Contact Methods

Technology advances provide many new and easy-to-use ways for US Citizens to learn more about their members of Congress. Many members of Congress have been quick to adapt to these new technologies, and they provide ample opportunities for learning more about the issues and making connections.

  • Official Websites: Every Member of Congress has a website. Most websites provide information on how to organize a visit to the Capitol and how to request assistance for personal issues (passport issues, etc). The websites also provide a form email that allows you to send messages to their office. Some websites are better than others, but they are the best place to start learning about your legislators.
  • Social Networking: Social Networking is not only important for providing new and unique opportunities to connect with your members of Congress, it can also help you learn about their thoughts on current hot topics. Facebook and Twitter are two networks that Members of Congress sometimes use to communicate with their constituents.
  • Collaborate: Seek out individuals and groups that could potentially be interested, or are already interested, in your issue. Be creative—a broad range of interests that can be represented makes for a very strong coalition.

Let ASCO’s Cancer Policy & Clinical Affairs Department help! If you have more detailed questions, please contact the Cancer Policy & Clinical Affairs Department at 571-483-1670 or send an email. Also, if you let ASCO know you have made contact with your legislator, we can help follow-up with the legislator’s DC office, answer any remaining questions, and continue to educate them on issues related to quality cancer care.

Additional Resources

Advocacy 101 Webinar: Preparing ASCO Advocates for Legislative Success