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Common Misperceptions About Advocacy

Legislators have big staffs
with all the answers already
Legislators in many states share a secretary with another legislator– that’s all the direct staff they get. No huge staffs, not even a full-time assistant. (While certain legislative leaders and committee chairs have extra assistance, most legislators do not.)  Truthfully, many legislators are severely understaffed and grossly overworked in the compressed time they are in session. Plus the policy committee staff members get overstretched during the session. This understaffing creates a special opportunity for nonprofits to step forward with quality information on a timely basis to help legislators and staff understand important nuances about policy issues.
Legislators don’t need help
  • In many legislative sessions, thousands of bills are introduced.
  • Topics of those bills ranged from aerospace to zoology. These bills demanded expertise on thousands of topics, from birth procedures to the death penalty, pre-Kindergarten through post-doctoral programs, microscopic research to examine internal DNA to telescopic research to explore distant stars, plain funding requirements to obscure tax loopholes, and the list goes on …
  • Consider these observations from new legislators:
    • "I don’t think it’s like anything anyone would expect. The first couple of weeks was like getting a Ph.D. in everything.”
    • "Until you’re actually in it you don’t realize the sheer volume of bills and dealing with scheduling problems.”
    • “It really takes a lot of work to get up to speed on issues like water, which I don’t have much background on.  It’s far too fast-paced.  Bills come at you from the left and from the right. If they come from your committee, you have some background. If not, all you get is a summary sheet.”
Nonprofits can’t add anything of real value Actually, nonprofits can do many things that others cannot.  First, their experience in the field provides earned-insights about what policy options might (and might not) work.  Nonprofits need to appreciate that their knowledge is a valued community resource and their expertise is needed by public policy makers.

Also, nonprofits can step up to speak the truth and thus be a teammate for government agencies that may feel hemmed in for political reasons, unable to talk about their serious funding needs for fear of appearing greedy, or unable to speak the full truth about a touchy political issue for fear of retribution against their budgets.