How to be an Effective Advocate Outside of Washington, DC
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How to be an Effective Advocate Outside of Washington, DC


Are you concerned about your AEQ (advocacy effectiveness quotient)? Do you want to become more effective in working for public policy changes?

If so, this piece is for you. Advocacy work that you do in your own community—week in and week out—is essential to creating positive change for seniors.

The best way to become an effective advocate is to build strong relationships with all three people who represent you in Washington, DC, and with their staff persons who cover aging issues. You want them to recognize your name and to trust the messages that you deliver.

Start Regular, Personal Communications 

That means you should contact them every month or two, by email or telephone. Do not rely on snail mail; it takes three to four weeks to arrive in DC because of testing for dangerous enclosures.

Members of Congress expect to hear from their constituents on issues they are passionate about, so don't hesitate. Use our look-up service to find the names and contact information of your members of Congress.

Sometimes your messages will ask for something specific (e.g., a vote or co-sponsorship), but other times you should pass along information, ideas, and stories that you think will be helpful.

When you receive an alert from NCOA, please act promptly by sending emails as the alert requests, and personalize them with information about seniors in your community, rather than sending the sample without changes.

Try to personalize all your emails to Congress with specifics relating to your experience and expertise in the local area where you live. Make sure to be polite to members of Congress and to staff.

Get Tips to Connect 

Here are some additional ways that you can influence your members of Congress:

  • Write letters-to-the-editor about issues. Members of Congress always read the letters in their hometown newspapers. Editors like letters that respond to something that appeared recently in the paper. Keep your letter concise, approximately 150 words. Most newspapers prefer email submissions. Include your full name, address, phone number, and email. See a sample letter to the editor.

  • Go to town hall meetings that your members of Congress hold and ask questions about senior issues. Or make an appointment to meet with your member of Congress in the local office. Tell about the potential impact locally of proposed legislation (positive or negative), or tell about the ways that funding shortfalls have hurt the local service deliverers. Get nine tips to make the most of these events.

  • Invite your members of Congress to your organization. If one accepts, you can show off your work, but also ask some direct questions about what they are doing in Congress that supports your work. Contact NCOA staff prior to the visit for possible questions and talking points. Get practical tips on how to invite an elected official to your next event.

  • Share information and ideas with others in your community who care about aging issues, perhaps starting or contributing to a list-serve on senior issues. Share the guidelines on this sheet.

Remember, you are building a relationship that may last for years, and that puts you in a valued position where a member of Congress trusts you and may seek out your help or opinion. Keep the lines of communication open and well-used.

If you meet with your member of Congress, please take a moment to tell us how it went by completing our quick online survey. Your response will help us track our advocacy efforts.


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Public Policy Priorities

See the issues we're fighting for in the 113th Congress, including the budget, Older Americans Act, and long-term services and supports.