On June 30th, Integer Vice President Sara Barba moderated a webinar with a panel of expert advocates to discuss the importance of local engagement as organizations build relationships with policymakers and their staff to advance effective public policy. Panelists included Katie Alford of the Abilene Community Foundation, Seyron Foo of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and Joel Larson of YMCA of the USA.
During the webinar, panelists highlighted the relationship-building work they engage in with their local, state and federal policymakers and their staff, as well as with other nonprofits and influential community members. The first major takeaway: you should never meet your local policymakers or their staff for the first time when you need something. Lawmakers have specific teams of people to work on constituent services, so organizations would do well to take advantage of those teams. Katie pointed to a recent example of her local member of Congress considering a bill that could threaten donor-advised funds at the community foundation. Because of the relationships they had built with his office, they were able to quickly get in touch and make him aware of the potential consequences of the legislation.
A second key takeaway: local engagement is a two-way street of learning, with foundations and nonprofits on one side and policymakers and regulators on the other. Engaging with policymakers locally can open up opportunities to provide feedback on programs that directly relate to the work your organization is doing. Seyron pointed to his foundation’s engagement with the Treasury Department as the administration was implementing an emergency rental assistance program. Because of consistent engagement, the foundation was able to provide feedback on how similar programs can be implemented in the future.
A final reminder: showing policymakers and their staff the full impact of what your organization does in the community is critical. Impact stories are some of the most valuable tools nonprofits and foundations have to show lawmakers what you do and how their policy work can impact your mission. The YMCA shares these stories by inviting policymakers to visit local branches to understand the wide array of community services the organization provides. According to Joel, the organization can’t assume policymakers know the scope of their offerings, so consistent engagement and project updates to members and staff keep it on their minds. Oftentimes, nonprofit and foundation work can be “out of sight, out of mind” for policymakers and community leaders, but building a strong rapport can help correct that.
Ultimately, all of the panelists underscored the critical importance of engaging early and often. Creating relationships when policymakers enter office, or even before they’re elected, and fostering those relationships consistently will prove incredibly valuable when a legislative or regulatory proposal emerges that could impact your organization.
Local engagement looks different for everyone. It can be as simple as setting up informal meetings with staff, to coordinating sector-wide events with members or staff in the community. Integer’s team has extensive experience engaging with federal lawmakers in their local communities, and we stand ready to help your organization build stronger relationships to achieve your policy goals.
If you missed the webinar, you can watch a recording here: