Advocating for youth during a campaign season is too often overlooked. But it is actually a great time to gain support. During the legislative session, there are so many demands on legislators and too little time. Now, when the legislature is not in session, is the time to advocate.
There is a distinction between lobbying and advocacy. When you lobby for a bill during a session, you are trying to advance a specific bill in a targeted and strategic manner. When you advocate, you are trying to change the hearts and minds of people.
Advocacy leads to successful lobbying.
Advocating for youth during the campaign season promotes:
- Access – By establishing a relationship before the legislative session begins, you will be able to more easily connect with a legislator during the session when decisions are made pertinent to our youth. They will make the extra effort to meet with you during the session and hear your concerns when they already know you.
- Friendship – We tend to think of elected people as different than us or unapproachable. That is so far from the truth. I promise you that you will find them easily approachable. With nearly all elected individuals supporting youth issues, they will see you and refer to you as a friend since you are in agreement with each other.
- Deeper Understanding – During the legislative session, lawmakers typically try to meet with as many people as they can. This means a lot of short meetings throughout 18 hour days listening to numerous people advancing various causes. Legislators sincerely want to do their best and listen, but the task is sometimes impossible. Talking in more amenable environments before and after the session is a better approach.
- Mutual Support – It is a simple principle: If you help a candidate during the campaign season, they will want to help you. You have to make an impression with them.
Campaign season provides ample opportunities for youth advocacy.
Advocating for youth is an attempt to win over support from everyone. But gaining support from lawmakers is critical. There is a multitude of ways to build relationships that can lead to this support:
- Attend a fundraiser: Campaigns cost money and candidates pay close attention to who financially supports them. They will take the time to find out more about you, which allows you to have a nice conversation about the need to support youth.
- Help a candidate: If you want to make a lasting impression, engage as a volunteer to help a candidate who supports Youth Intervention. You don’t have devote your entire summer and fall to their campaign. But find the time to occasionally help door knock, phone call, pass out literature, or put up campaign signs. Even walk in a parade. Your help will not be forgotten.
- Have coffee: Candidates want (and need) to know what their constituents think. Contact your candidates and invite them to coffee. It’s an opportunity to let them know what is important to you. If they support your cause, be sure to follow up with support to their campaign–whether it is a financial contribution or volunteering your time- because you need them to win.
We all should be advocating for youth.
YIPA has developed a FREE webinar called, How to be a Good Advocate for Youth. I encourage you to watch it.
Individuals and organizations can be advocates. The American Bar Association provides an excellent discussion on the parameters of advocacy and lobbying for nonprofit organizations.
We do not have the luxury to wait for others to work on the behalf of our youth; we all have to be active participants in advocacy.
Paul Meunier is the Executive Director for the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA)