Cathy Schuchart is vice president of government affairs and media relations for the School Nutrition Association.
Associations want their members to be able to better communicate with legislators and discuss priority issues with them. Use these four strategies to develop an advocacy toolkit that empowers members to be more effective industry advocates.
Association advocacy pros like to think we have the ear of legislators overseeing our members’ key issues, but let’s be honest—members of Congress listen to their constituents first. And although our members are experts in their field, they still may be a little nervous and uncertain about planning a visit with their elected officials.
One of the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) most popular member resources is our Cafeteria Visits 101 toolkit [PDF]. This short, step-by-step guide walks school nutrition professionals through planning and hosting a successful legislator visit to their school cafeteria.
While every advocacy toolkit must be tailored to the needs of an association’s members and industry, use these four strategies to develop an effective advocacy toolkit.
Be sure your toolkit guides members on how to tell their story in the most impactful and memorable way. SNA encourages members to offer representatives a chance to taste a healthy, delicious school meal and spend time with students who benefit from federally funded school meal programs.
During the tour, representatives can see firsthand how the programs operate and how federal funding and regulations affect students, staff, and menus. Try to include specific suggestions for members on key initiatives to highlight, data points to share, and tips to advocate for top policy priorities during the visit.
It’s our job as association staff to carefully plan every meeting detail, but our members have another full-time job. When drafting your toolkit, strike a balance between prioritizing critical steps to make the meeting successful without providing so much instruction that your members are overwhelmed and hesitant to even extend the invite.
SNA’s toolkit provides three pages of detail, plus a handy checklist that categorizes and summarizes key steps for members with limited time for planning.
Don’t let your toolkit gather cobwebs on your website—implement a plan to promote it throughout the year, especially in advance of Congressional district work periods, when legislators have more time for constituent meetings and visits.
SNA promotes our toolkit as part of every advocacy-related webinar or presentation, especially during our annual Legislative Action Conference in Washington, DC. In webinars and LAC presentations, we have a PowerPoint slide that includes a picture of the cover and a link or description of where to find the toolkit on our website, and the presenter describes the resource.
Regarding letter-writing campaigns, SNA promotes the toolkit by including a link on the webpage where members can customize their letter, or a link in an email promoting the letter writing campaign, encouraging members to take the next step and invite their members of Congress to visit. When SNA asks members to participate in letter-writing campaigns through our Action Network, we also encourage them to host a legislator site visit using our toolkit.
In addition, we share the toolkit as part of our annual National School Lunch and Breakfast Week marketing campaigns, when school nutrition teams already have special events planned that are perfect for VIP guests and potential media coverage.
Update the toolkit as needed, and be certain email addresses, phone numbers, social media handles, and links are current. Also make sure instructions are still relevant, particularly as policies for visitors have evolved since the pandemic.
As your association’s advocacy and messaging priorities shift, you’ll also want to update the toolkit. Periodically giving the photos, graphics, stats, and cover page a refresh will encourage members to give this valuable resource another look.By following these key tips, you’ll help members become more effective advocates. And don’t forget to encourage members to share an event summary and photos with your association so you can see how your toolkit is making a difference and spread the word to other members.