Advocating: Public Policy

The start of this summer was marked by the culmination of the state budget process in Ohio. In January, Governor Kasich introduced his executive budget and in the months that followed, the General Assembly engaged in a lengthy process to ensure Ohio had a balanced budget (as required by law) and one that invested in core programs and services. This proved to be no easy task.  Even as I write this, there are still veto overrides that the Ohio House and Senate are considering that will impact important programs, like Medicaid.

Despite the unknowns of every budget cycle, I can always count on public policy advocates descending on the statehouse to work tirelessly for legislative wins on important issues. How do they succeed? A recent program by Foundation Center Midwest provided some valuable gems from policy advocates on the keys to advocacy success. I’ll share several that stood out to me:

     Be willing to make the organizational investment in government relations.

What does it mean for an organization to invest in government relations? It means you understand how government impacts your work (either through laws, regulations or funding) and you factor into your budget the capacity to bring on key staff or consultants to advance public policy priorities that will help you and your constituency succeed. I get it – funding government relations can sometimes feel like a daunting or scary task for organizations but it is necessary. Here’s a great piece on the ROI of advocacy that’s worth a read. The Alliance for Justice also has great resources for organizations and boards to safely navigate the lobbying and advocacy space.

    Clearly define your policy ask and engage those you represent to communicate it.

Imagine you only have 30 seconds to make a policy ask to a legislator. What do you say to peak their interest? What are the one or two points you can give them that can easily be remembered? That’s the framing you must consider when crafting a policy ask. Succinct, to-the-point, and easy to understand. Even better? Engaging your constituency to communicate the message. It’s one thing for a lobbyist to share why an issue is important. It’s more powerful for legislators to hear from those directly impacted by their policy decisions.

   Coalition building is critical for effective advocacy.

What’s better than one organization championing a cause? Two.  Or maybe even more. Whether through formal state associations or informal partnerships of organizations, having a collective voice to represent the importance of an issue demonstrates its strength and can help secure support from elected officials you may not normally work with.

There’s much more to be said about the power of advocacy and the tools that can help organizations be effective in this work. Stay tuned for future Foundation Center events and resources that will be sure to provide more insight on the topic. Hope to see you there!

Alesha Washington Photo 2015

Alesha Washington is the Vice President of Government Advocacy for the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP). As a part of one of the largest chambers of commerce in the country, Alesha serves as the lead researcher, advocate and educator regarding local and state government issues impacting the Northeast Ohio business community.