Advocacy Toolkit

Engage With Your Lawmakers Today!

Advocacy and engagement with lawmakers is an essential part of preserving and strengthening philanthropy. It provides an opportunity for you to communicate—in a variety of ways—the positive impact of charitable giving in the lives of their constituents every day, and ensure that they understand how the decisions they make in Washington matter at home.

Many recognize this. From those who do, we hear:

Philanthropy is a bedrock component of American culture and tradition.
Foundations play a central role in improving their communities.
With boots-on-the-ground, foundations can respond nimbly to pressing needs.

Despite this, there are still some troubling misconceptions that have been circulating recently about philanthropy, including:

The government doesn’t need to fund this—philanthropy can.
Endowed funds are parked funds.
The only type of support foundations provide is funding—they aren’t involved much beyond that.

As commentators, academics, and even some policymakers express skepticism about philanthropy, it is imperative for all of us to demonstrate the impact of philanthropy and convey the true nature of our work to elected officials in an intentional and consistent way. The Advocacy Toolkit will help you to plan and execute meaningful interactions with your lawmakers.

The materials in this toolkit are meant to assist you with all types of interaction you could have with lawmakers: sending a letter or e-mail, tweeting, writing an op-ed, preparing for meetings or phone calls, and following up after the fact.

 

Get Started Today with Our Handy Guide

 


1. Plan

It's important to know what outreach opportunities are available to you in order to choose which types of interaction best fit your situation.

Additionally, it is important to know what your organization is allowed to do as a 501(c)(3). In particular, we recognize that private foundations may want additional guidance on what kinds of advocacy are permissible. The documents below will help you decide which outreach strategies make the most sense for you. You can also contact Counsel Suzanne Friday at Suzanne.Friday@cof.org for more information on your specific situation.

If you don't know who your members of Congress are, you can visit the websites of the House of Representatives and the Senate to look them up. From there you can also access contact information about your lawmakers and their websites with details about local offices.

If you are able to visit your member in Washington, use our sample meeting request to email their office and arrange an appointment. We strongly recommend emailing your requests, as security concerns mean posted mail can be delayed by a month or longer.

 


2. Prepare

Equip yourself with stories and anecdotes of how your work has benefitted the community or populations you serve within the lawmaker’s constituency. This will help to illustrate for them the importance of your work on a day-to-day basis.

  • "Local Philanthropy" - A resource to help you think of stories of your impact, with some quick facts for reference.

Be sure to take the time to research current policy issues. The following documents will be useful in getting up to speed on the current policy landscape:

Many members of Congress have already taken significant action in support of philanthropy. Visit our list of Philanthropy Supporters on the Hill to see if your member has already taken action.

To get the latest updates on policy developments, sign up for our weekly policy newsletter, Washington Snapshot, by emailing our membership team at membership@cof.org.

 


3. Deliver Your Message

When communicating with your lawmaker, it is important to be clear, intentional, and consistent in your message. Your lawmaker has a lot of constituents who care about a multitude of issues. To ensure that your message resonates, be concise, patient, and reiterate key points to make sure they stick.

Make use of the following resources to shape the delivery of your message.

These documents are customizable, with ample space for you to include examples of how your organization impacts your community.

 


4. Keep in Touch

It's important that you maintain and nurture these relationships with your lawmaker and his or her staff to ensure your message continues to resonate.

Lawmakers follow their hometown press closely, so submitting an, op-ed or letter to the editor can help drive your message home. Use these templates to get started:

Help us help you—tell us about your interactions! Capturing this kind of information will help us plan future outreach and advocacy efforts. It will also allow us to identify lawmakers who support the sector, and those with whom we should continue to engage.

After you send a letter, e-mail, or have another type of interaction with your lawmakers, please take the time to fill out our short survey describing your experience.