As we talk to bankers about getting involved in the legislative process at the local, state or federal level, we often hear the same refrain: “We don’t have anything specific to ask for, so why would we go to see our lawmakers?” While that perspective is understandable, usually it’s not the best place to start. Here are five things to think about as you consider expanding your own advocacy efforts:
- Think local. If you’re going to talk to your state legislator, make an appointment close to home or extend an invitation to meet in your office. If you’re going to be a part of a congressional fly-in, introduce yourself to the staff at the local office of your representative or senator. This local relationship gives you an easy way to get in touch with the Washington, D.C., office when you need to. More than that, it gives local staff the ability to direct information to the right staff member in Washington.
- Offer before you ask. The first contact with your elected official’s staff should be to offer your help, not ask for theirs. Consider the news of the day or the legislation being considered. Does your business have a perspective on that issue or any insight into the consequences of any potential action? Be a resource and offer your expertise.
- Show up. When your elected officials are home from Washington or the statehouse, attend their town hall meetings or go to community events they’re likely to attend. Familiar faces get noticed. Easy conversations at sometimes-awkward social events are a relief. Remember, you’re the person who isn’t asking for anything … yet.
- Build a coalition. When you ask for help with an issue, anticipate objections, find compromise where possible and always try to come with a coalition of constituents. Knowing that an issue has supporters across sectors and industries always helps!
- Say thank you! At each of these steps, sending handwritten notes and regularly acknowledging the work your elected officials are doing on your behalf won’t just be welcome, it’ll set you apart.
Decisions are influenced by those who show up! It’s easy to watch the legislative process from the outside and criticize the mess we sometimes see in the headlines. Getting involved on behalf of your institution and your community can be an educational and rewarding way to make sure your voice is heard.
Dan Kramer is senior vice president of government and community affairs for SHAZAM.