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Advocacy From the Heart

By October 28, 2020 No Comments
As a professional advocate – someone that builds coalitions and mobilizes members to impact policy and public opinion – I understand the ins and outs of how to effectively advocate. Heck, I’ve been training people to be authentic advocates for over a decade, leading statewide campaign and lobbying support programs that have shaped public policy in Sacramento and D.C.
It is pretty simple – surround decisionmakers with compelling messages from authentic voices using direct communications and earned/owned/paid media. This normally does the trick.

Becoming the Advocate

But what happens when you are no longer the person creating the advocacy program and instead are THE advocate? It is an eye opener for sure, providing a new perspective on what it really means to be an effective, passionate advocate.

Last month, I was honored to join cancer survivors, caregivers, medical professionals and advocates from around the country for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s 2020 Virtual Leadership Summit & Lobby Day. While the COVID-19 pandemic kept us from take the Capital by storm, the California team virtually covered every Congressional office in the state’s delegation.

We urged Congressmembers to support increased funding for critically needed cancer research and prevention programs, as well as co-sponsorship of H.R. 1966/S. 946 – the Henrietta Lacks Cancer Research Enhancement Act – to study federal policies that directly impact the participation rates of minority patients in cancer clinical trials nationwide.

While our messages were simple, the ACS CAN team took Lobby Day veterans and first-timers like me through a rigorous training program that ensured success. It was a whirlwind experience, jumping on and off Zooms between work and parenting, but looking back I realized just how close to perfect the training program is.

Here’s a quick recap of the program, steps lobbying support, alliance development and campaign coalition programs should include to make sure advocates are trained and ready to go:

Failure to Prepare is Preparing to Fail

You think a bunch of volunteers don’t take lobbying seriously? Then you haven’t been part of a Lobbying Day! ACS CAN put everyone through four, yes FOUR, training sessions covering mission, how to conduct these virtual advocacy meetings, what our “asks” were, and practice programs. These trainings give advocates confidence in their words and actions, allowing us to focus on our goals.

K.I.S.S.

Too often people try to cram too much information into a 30-minute meeting. Don’t overload elected officials and staffers! Instead, keep it simple stupid (K.I.S.S.). Our entire program, from the overview to “ask” and talking points took up two pages. Make it easy for advocates to digest and it will be easy for advocates to tell their story.

Make it Personal

Speaking of telling a story, remember that anyone can sight facts and figures but a personal story makes advocacy truly impactful. How a legislative proposal has or could impact me, my family, my business, or opportunities in the community show tangible benefits or harms.

Practice. Practice. Practice!

In the immortal words of The Rock … Know Your Role! I could have also broken out Allen Iverson and his rant about “Practice” but I thought the Rock reference was better. This really doesn’t need much explanation outside of knowing what to say and when is critical to an effective advocacy meeting.

Follow Up is Key

Speaking of telling a story, remember that anyone can sight facts and figures but a personal story makes advocacy truly impactful. How a legislative proposal has or could impact me, my family, my business, or opportunities in the community show tangible benefits or harms.

Advocacy is my passion, but advocating for myself and ACS CAN was rewarding on a completely different level. I can’t wait for the 2021 Summit and Lobby Day where hopefully my fellow advocates and I can gather, in person, and call on Congress to make defeating cancer a priority.

For more information about Cerrell’s advocacy programs or to discuss scheduling a training, please contact Brandon at [email protected].

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