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Make Your Friends Before You Need Them

Over the past two years Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council (GPLC) has learned a great deal about communicating with elected officials. Some of this learning may be helpful to other nonprofit organizations.

Prior to 2012, GPLC communicated quite a bit with legislators at the state and federal levels, but that communication often came in response to a crisis. In other words, we waited until the threat of a funding cut or a policy change to contact public officials. Most of those communications failed to make much impact. Why? They came too late in the policy-making process.

During that time, we failed to remember the old adage “make your friends before you need them.” That means you begin to develop a relationship with legislators when there is no emergency and when you are not reacting to a sudden threat.

GPLC staff formed an Advocacy Committee which meets regularly and plans how to communicate with officials. In the summer of 2013 the Committee planned an open house for elected officials to visit our agency, meet our clients, and learn about our services. We didn’t make a specific request of legislators at that time; we simply educated them about what we do. The legislators really appreciate being informed about our services.

We’ve developed several strong relationships that led to a hearing on adult education before a House committee in Harrisburg. One individual proposed legislation that will benefit our students. While these triumphs are gratifying, we also recognize that advocacy is a long-term process.

Please don’t wait until the state or federal budget is about to be approved to communicate with your elected official. Reach out to him/her throughout the year to build a great relationship. And always remember the adage, “make your friends before you need them.”

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