Tips for Contacting Your State Legislators

Many nonprofits nationwide continue to be plagued by state budget cuts. While you may want to petition your legislators for a break, do you know what to say — and what might work — to keep that grant money coming in or to get that state contract renewed? Here are a few suggestions:

 

1. Act promptly. Monitor state legislative activities year-round so you’re among the first to learn of proposed budget cuts that will affect your not-for-profit. And stay informed of your legislators’ positions. Then write, call or arrange to meet with them right away to indicate your support or disagreement with their stand. If you wait too long to respond, the deal may already be done.

2. Fine-tune your message. When you communicate with legislators, avoid vague concepts such as “helping the community.” Now is the time to talk about your program results — be succinct and mention your strongest outcomes. And provide at least one real-life example. Let’s say that your job-training program enabled a poor single mother to get a job and, hence, stop her family from being evicted from their apartment. Include these details in your story and perhaps a picture of the family or a testimonial. Estimate how much it would cost the state to support this family vs. what it paid your organization for the mother’s clerical training.

3. Stand up as an employer and an economic driver. Let your legislators know how many jobs your not-for-profit provides. For example, your nonprofit gainfully employs 90 residents (and voters) in their district. If the state cuts your funding, you’ll be forced to cut jobs. If your nonprofit drives the local economy in other ways, talk about those, too. For instance, your museum attracts 50,000 out-of-town visitors a year, who spend approximately $4 million shopping and dining nearby.

4. Boost your political muscle. Consider joining forces with other organizations — both local and national. This can help you gain the attention of legislators, especially if your nonprofit is small.