How to be an Effective Advocate

1. Present yourself as a polite, intelligent, well-informed, well-dressed and articulate constituent.

Act as you would for a job interview: dress well and be early for your appointments. It shows that you respect those with whom you are dealing, and that you are serious. Try to learn something relevant about each legislator you are seeing: some aspect of his or her background, voting record, political philosophy — or even what his or her hobbies may be. Know facts and figures about your issue. Know the effect of funding cuts on your institution and the state as a whole.

2. Don’t be overwhelmed by a legislator’s office or his/her presence.

Your legislators represent you. Be prepared to respond as knowledgeably as possible to any questions they may have for you, but remember that they are important because we elected them.

3. Politely make it known that you are a voter.

Let it be known that you vote (be registered and know which Assembly and Senate districts you reside in), and that this issue is vital to you. Let them know that their decision to support or not support your position will have an effect on your vote. Be ready for tough but fair questioning on their part. By the same token, you must realize that elected officials face many other legitimate requests for state funding: roads, hospitals, welfare, prisons, health and child care, to name a few.

4. Be organized.

Tell your own story, the effect that cuts have had on you personally. This can be more powerful than just facts and figures. Your goal is to convince your legislator that money spent on education has the best effect on society as a whole; therefore, the dollars that are invested in the short-term will have long-term social and economic benefits. Most colleges are not wealthy institutions. The aid they provide to students far exceeds the amount received from the state.

Try to find out how many of the legislator’s constituents attend your college or university. Be well informed. The legislator may want to know about what is happening at your campus as well as how the institution has been hurt by the reduction in aid.

5. Do not be disappointed if you meet with your legislator’s staff member.

Sometimes, due to conflicts, you may be unable to meet with the legislator. The legislator relies on the staff member to represent him or her. Deal politely but firmly and appropriately with professional staff. Let it be known that as a constituent, your concerns are important. Be sure to compliment staff members who are cooperative and polite to you — they deserve the recognition. Obtain their names, explain that you will be writing a favorable letter or making a favorable comment to the legislator.

6. Leave a written statement of your request or proposal.

Make sure that it includes your name, address, and the name of the institution you attend. Frequently, legislators will write to you thanking you for your visit.

7. Follow up.

Write to the legislators you visited and thank them for their time and for listening to your viewpoint. By doing so, not only do you maintain communication with your legislator, but s/he will be more inclined to remember your position as negotiations progress. An invitation to your campus or a report on information the legislator may have asked for are all highly desirable. Keep notes of any promises of support that are made for future reference. 

A special thanks to Jerome Neuner and Kevin Hardwick of Canisius College for supplying much of the information contained in this document.