This User Guide features detailed steps on how to find your local lawmaker, how to develop your message, and tips for effective advocacy.
Below are steps on how to effectively find, contact, and interact with your state legislators.
Find Your Representatives
- Go to OpenStates.org
- Enter your zip code and find out who your local lawmakers are.
- If your primary residence is in a different district than the district your institution is located in, you might consider reaching out to representatives from both districts.
Develop Your Message
- Letter/Email Templates: NASFAA has developed letter and email templates that can be customized with your information before sending to your representatives. While these documents provide a foundation for your message, it is important to customize them to reflect your position on the proposed legislation and incorporate data/information on how the proposal will impact your specific students/institution.
- Talking Points: NASFAA has developed a set of talking points that outline the importance of state financial aid programs. These talking points focus on the critical role that state aid programs play in promoting student access and success, placing particular emphasis on the importance of these programs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The talking points also highlight research demonstrating the effectiveness of specific state aid programs in improving higher education access and attainment for in-state students.
- School-Specific Data: Elected officials want to hear how proposed legislation will impact the communities they represent. Providing data specific to your institution and students is a great way to show your representatives that their support of student aid funding or other proposed legislation yields positive results for their district and constituents. Examples of data you may wish to share include:
- Number of students enrolled at institution
- Number of Pell Grant recipients at institution
- Number of state grant recipients at institution
- Persistence/graduate rates for state grant recipients, especially if this data suggests that receiving state aid is related to higher rates of persistence/completion
Maintain the Relationship
After conducting your outreach, it is important to maintain the relationship to build with your lawmakers and their staff.
- Follow up with a note or email thanking the lawmaker/staff for taking the time to hear your concerns.
- If questions came up during the meeting that you were not able to answer, follow up with the additional information that was requested.
- Report back to your region or state any relevant information that might be helpful in strategizing future advocacy efforts.
- Keep checking in with your contacts, even when there is nothing specific that you want to address. Sending a short email every month or so keeping the office informed of what is going on at your campus is a great way to stay on their radar for when significant issues do arise, or the office needs input on student aid funding/legislation. For example, you may consider sending an update each semester or month highlighting what your office is working on, how many students are benefiting from your state aid program, or any new issues that may have arisen.
How to Engage Students in Your Advocacy Efforts
Engaging the students who benefit from state student aid programs can be an extremely effective tool when advocating for robust funding. If you want to include students in your advocacy efforts, you should look for students who are engaged in the campus community and are invested in maintaining state aid programs. You may consider reaching out to the student government association, student groups that work with education issues, or Federal Work-Study students in your office. NASFAA has developed a Student Advocacy Manual that financial aid administrators can share with students to support their advocacy efforts. The manual includes:
- Advocacy tips
- Instructions on how to find/contact their state representatives
- Letter/email templates
- Sample script for phone call
- Instructions for how to leverage social media and create a hashtag campaign
Tips for Effective Advocacy
- Keep it local: Elected officials want to hear how proposed legislation will impact their constituents and the local communities they represent. Discussing how the state aid program has positively impacted your specific students, rather than all students generally, is a great way to show your lawmakers that their support of student aid funding yields positive results for the community they care about most.
- Keep it personal: As an aid administrator working directly with students, your experiences and perspectives are your most powerful tool! Share your personal experiences and detail how additional funding or a specific bill would help you better support students.
- Keep their position in mind: Research the lawmaker's background and voting history to better understand how they may feel about the issue you plan to discuss. Understanding what their position may be will help you frame your advocacy to be as effective as possible. Has the representative supported the issue you are advocating for in the past? Does the representative have connections to your institution or another in-state institution, such as being an alumnus/alumna or serving on a governing board?
- Keep it factual: Speak in an objective, factual manner. You can absolutely share your perspective as an aid administrator, but always ground your position in facts based on your experiences and available data. Don't worry if you are asked a question that you don't know the answer to — it's always okay to say, "I'm actually not sure, I will check on that and follow up with you soon."
- Keep informed: Stay up to date on what's going on in the legislature, as well as the environment and political context that might impact the issue you are discussing. Are there certain issues that are at the top of the legislative agenda? For example, when advocating for increased funding for a state student aid program, it is helpful to know the deadline by which the legislature must approve a budget for the next fiscal year.
- Clearly state who you are representing
- Show gratitude for something specific
- Share your information, but also listen
- Be concise
- Ask for support on something specific
- Focus on students
- Have some "fast facts" and data about your school and student population
- Suggest cutting other programs to pay for student aid increases
- Engage in political discussion
- Answer a question for which you do not know the answer
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