Funding Essentials

Grass-Roots Advocacy: Make Yourself a Trusted Resource

If you could use the passion you have for your business and the beneficiaries you serve to infl uence public policy, what would you be willing to do? Would you invest 20 to 30 minutes a day to keep current on federal and state legislative and regulatory changes?

Could you make three phone calls or write three e-mails a month to your members of Congress and update them on the positive or negative impact of change on their constituents? Can you afford to support your members of Congress at a fundraiser?

Can you afford not to?

The real power of our industry is in these types of grass-roots advocacy efforts, and there is no better time to begin or continue these efforts than now.

This summer, from Aug. 7 through Sept. 13, your members of Congress are home in the districts that elected them. This year the summer recess is particularly important, as it is an election year for all members of the House and one third of the Senate. Democrats are trying to hang on to their majority, and Republicans will be trying to take it away.

If you are dissatisfied with how your members of Congress have represented you, your business and the beneficiaries you care for, now is your opportunity to effect change.

Healthcare reform, the elimination of the first-month purchase option for standard power chairs, competitive bidding and the complex rehab separate benefit initiative should provide a sufficient number of topics for conversation. But first you must establish a relationship with your members of Congress, or their opponents.

Grass-roots advocacy is nothing more than building a relationship, establishing mutual trust and helping one another. The key to success in grass-roots advocacy is ensuring your legislators know you and what is important to you, and vice versa. The most crucial thing you can do between now and January, when the 112th Congress is seated, is to establish a relationship with your elected officials or their opponents.

Step 1: Find Out About Your Members of Congress or Their Opponents

Read your member’s biography, find out what legislation he/she has sponsored or co-sponsored, and read his/her official position on a variety of issues at thomas.loc.gov to find an area of common interest. You can also obtain contact information, district and D.C. office locations and sign up to receive e-mail correspondence from your member. To find out about your member of Congress or his/her opponent as a candidate, do a Google search for information on campaign office locations, events, endorsements and platforms.

Step 2: Find Out When & Where They Are Going to Be in the District

What events will your members, or their opponents, be attending, sponsoring or participating in? In an election year members take advantage of every opportunity they can to meet and greet their constituents.

You may be able to obtain this information from their office schedulers, if they have them. However, in order to protect members’ privacy and ensure their safety, there are many instances when this information will not be provided to the public at large.

To receive timely updates as to where you can meet face to face, it is best to sign up to receive e-mail updates from their offices. The closer the event is to your place of business, the easier it is to make an initial connection, but any event within your service area is worth the effort. Finding these opportunities is easier in an election year.

Step 3: Show Up, Shake Hands, Introduce Yourself & Say Thank You

“Hello, Congressman/Senator ____. My name is Julie Piriano, and I own/work for a local ____ company. I want to thank you for being here today to break ground for the new library/open the new ice cream shop/kick off the parade, etc. I really appreciate all that you do (or plan to do) for our district and the people who live here.”

If you have an opportunity, engage them about the event you are both attending, and listen for areas of common interest. Unless it is an industryspecific event — healthcare-related town hall meeting or disability awareness day — it may be too soon to engage them on issues that are of concern to you, your business and the beneficiaries you serve. That will come later, once they begin to know you.

Step 4: Develop the Relationship

Look for additional opportunities to meet and engage your member of Congress, or his/her opponent and his/her staff. Find areas of common interest, and ask if there is anything you can do for him/her. Common interest is a great conversation starter and helps them remember you.

Did you go to the same high school? Are your kids on rival soccer teams? Did your fathers serve in WWII together? It does not matter what the connection is, but if you can find something in common, it is easier to remember the face with the name and establish an initial level of trust.

Step 5: Commit to the Relationship

After several encounters, attend a fundraiser for your member of Congress, or his/her opponent, and support his/her campaign. A modest personal contribution is an investment in the future; just remember that a campaign contribution should not be linked to your “ask” and cannot be presented on government property or time.

You can, however, get to know him/her a little better by engaging in a conversation about where you work and what you do to help his/her constituents remain safe, mobile and independent in their homes and community. Find out if he/she has any friends or family members who use wheelchairs or have used them in the past. He/she will either relate an experience or be thankful not to have experience in this area. In either case, he/she will make the connection that you are “the wheelchair guy,” and you have now built the foundation to be a resource and ask for his/her support.

Step 6: Foster, Protect & Expand the Relationship

Get to know your elected official’s key staff members and find out what they know about the issues that are important to you, your business and the beneficiaries you serve. In D.C., where legislative activity takes place, it is essential to establish communication with a member’s health legislative assistant. In the District office, which is primarily responsible for constituent services, key contacts include the district director and the constituent services representative who handles healthcare-related issues. Your member of Congress is very busy and relies on his/her staff to gather information and provide advice. Let him/her know that you know the member, and win their confidence.

Establishing yourself as a trusted resource is the goal of grass-roots advocacy and lets the lobbying begin. You are helping your member of Congress to better serve the constituents that elected him/her and he/she is ready to help you.

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Julie Piriano, PT, ATP/SMS, is VP, Clinical Education, Rehab Industry Affairs & Compliance Officer for Pride Mobility Products.

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