Key Takeaways

  • Advocacy work that you do in your own community is essential to creating positive change for older Americans.

  • Learn how to be a successful advocate outside of our nation's capitol with these tips in working effectively for public policy changes.

  • Don't know how to build a strong relationship with those who represent you? Find out how you can start getting them to recognize your name.

Are you concerned about your AEQ (advocacy effectiveness quotient)? Do you want to become more effective in working for public policy changes?

If so, this piece is for you. Advocacy work that you do in your own community—week in and week out—is essential to creating positive change for seniors.

The best way to become an effective advocate is to build strong relationships with all three people who represent you in Washington, DC, and with their staff who cover aging issues. You want them to recognize your name and to trust the messages that you deliver.

Start Regular, Personal Communications

That means you should contact them every month or two, by email, phone, or news mailed to the local office or posted on social media. 

Members of Congress expect to hear from their constituents on issues they are passionate about, so don’t hesitate. Visit our Action Center to find the names and contact information of your members of Congress.

Sometimes your messages will ask for something specific (e.g., lobbying on a vote or co-sponsorship), but other times your advocacy should be about education, passing along information, ideas, and stories you think will be helpful.

When you receive an advocacy action alert from NCOA, please act promptly by sending emails as requested, and personalize them with specifics relating to your experience and expertise gained from serving older adults in your community, rather than sending the sample message without changes. Review additional suggestions we’ve compiled for writing Congress.

Get Tips to Connect

Here are some additional ways that you can influence your members of Congress:

  • Write letters-to-the-editor about issues. Members of Congress always read the letters in their hometown newspapers. Editors like letters that respond to something that appeared recently in the paper. Keep your letter concise, approximately 150 words. Most newspapers prefer email submissions. Include your full name, address, phone number, and email. See a sample letter to the editor.
  • Go to town hall meetings that your members of Congress hold and ask questions about senior issues. Or make an appointment to meet with your member of Congress in the local office. Don’t forget the state and county fairs that politicians frequent on weekends and during the August Congressional recess. Tell about the potential impact locally of proposed legislation (positive or negative), or tell about the ways that funding shortfalls have hurt the local service deliverers. Get nine tips to make the most of these events and ten tips for successful Congressional meetings.
  • Invite your members of Congress to visit your organization. If one accepts, you can show off your work, but also ask some direct questions about what they are doing in Congress that supports your work. Contact NCOA Public Policy and Advocacy staff prior to the visit for possible questions and talking points. Get practical advice on how to invite an elected official to your next event.
  • Build relationships with Congressional staff who work in the state or local district offices. They represent the member of Congress at local meetings and events, and serve as caseworkers to help constituents with federal programs and benefits. Invite them to regular meetings and events on your calendar, and let them know how you can help them serve the community. Then when the Senator or Representative needs to know how legislation might affect constituents, local staff will know who to turn to for input.
  • Share information and ideas with others in your community who care about aging issues, perhaps starting or contributing to a list serve on older adult issues or disseminating themt hrough social media channels.

Remember, you are building a relationship that may last for years, and that puts you in a valued position where a member of Congress trusts you and may seek out your help or opinion. Keep the lines of communication open and well-used.

If you meet with your member of Congress, please take a moment to tell us how it went. Your feedback will help us track our collective advocacy efforts.