Building Coalitions for Legislative Issues: 10 Pearls of Wisdom

  • Ask for help. Build a network. Rapport vs. #reporting.
  • Lead by serving. You cannot delegate everything. Take the tough tasks.
  • Gentle pressure, relentlessly applied; also known as…attend, attend, attend!
  • Master the 60-second speech.
  • Network with same-minded advocates.
  • Demystify contacting legislators.
  • Don’t provide ammunition for opponents.
  • Know the difference between being an advocate and a bother.
  • Know how to take “no” when you lose. Be gracious in victory!
  • Know how and when to recharge the batteries.

Creating a 60-Second Core Message

Legislators, parents, teachers…no matter who your audience is, they are undoubtedly short on time and anxious for you to get to the point when you are communicating. Before you sit down to share your ideas, prepare a 60-second core message that conveys the heart of your message and clearly articulates what you want the other person or group to do with the information. Remove all unnecessary jargon and consider your message from the audience’s point of view. What’s in it for them? What are they most concerned with?

For a twist on creating a 60-second core message, refer to this Fast Company Magazine article on how to Nail your pitch in 60 seconds.

Dos & Don’ts for Legislative Advocacy

(This article was shared by Matt Carver, SAI Legal Services Director.)

Social studies teachers around the country have found an indirect way to head off our youth obesity epidemic. I’m sure this is old hat to some of you, but bear with me. As I was watching the State of the Union address the other night, I noticed my 8th-grade daughter standing and clapping every time President Obama received a standing ovation during his address. While initially inspired that my daughter had taken such an active interest in our governing process, I learned that she was actually following the instructions of her social studies teacher, who recommended that students participate in every standing ovation (I presume to show how silly it is). This little exercise served two purposes: 1) it helped strengthen my daughter’s leg muscles, as she was barely able to get out of bed the next day; and, 2) the clapping helped keep dad awake after the message wore past an hour in length.

In any case, this civics exercise, along with requests from SAI members, helped inspire me to cover some of the dos and don’ts in regard to political campaigning, ballot issues, and political advocacy in our schools.

The Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board (hereinafter “Ethics Board” or “IECDB”) has covered just about every thinkable question in the area of campaign ethics over the past 10 years, so we’ll review a number of IECDB opinions that are most applicable to school personnel, as well as review Iowa Code and Administrative Rule language that lays the groundwork for the Ethics Board’s positions.

For starters, many of the rules and IECDB’s opinions related to use of public funds for political purposes revolve around Iowa Code §68A.505. The administrative rules that implement this and other relevant campaign ethics laws are found in Iowa Administrative Code Chapter 351, which may be accessed here on Administrative Rules – Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board.

Iowa Code §68A.505 (Use of public money for political purposes) states: 
The state and the governing body of a county, city, or other political subdivision of the state shall not expend or permit the expenditure of public money for political purposes, including expressly advocating the passage or defeat of a ballot issue.

This section shall not be construed to limit the freedom of speech of officials or employees of the state or of officials or employees of a governing body of a county, city, or other political subdivision of the state. This section also shall not be construed to prohibit the state or a governing body of a political subdivision of the state from expressing an opinion on a ballot issue through the passage of a resolution or proclamation.

Identifying Forces Within the Community

The Silent Generation:

Born between 1925-1942 (ages 71-88), were raised to be seen and not heard. They were influenced by World War II, the Korean War, the civil rights movement, and the antiwar movement. Great proponents of discussion and collaboration. This group places a high value on the process.

The Baby Boom Generation:

Born between 1942-1960 (ages 53-71) and were raised on postwar optimism. They scorned the old ways of their parents. They are rebellious, inner driven, and idealistic. They are risk-takers and helicopter parents knowing what’s best for their children and how to secure it.

Generation X:

Born between 1961-1981 (ages 32-52). They grew up in an era of failing schools, failing marriages, and working mothers. They learned early on to take care of themselves and blossomed into a generation of problem solvers. They thrive on collaboration. They are skeptics, realists,  pragmatists. At the same time, they are highly family-oriented.

Generation Y:

Born between 1981-2002 (ages 11-32). They grew up in the era of the “wanted” child.” They have experienced a life focused on them. This generation is sheltered, special, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving. They look to their peers, rather than experts, for opinions and support. They have grown up with technology as an extension of themselves.

(Porterfield, K. & Carnes, M., 2011, Why Social Media Matters)

Tips for Legislative Advocacy

  • Set IASB legislative priorities
  • Invite legislators to a board meeting
  • Invite legislators in to observe programming
  • Build 60-second talking points
  • Contact legislators via email regularly to say “thanks” (
  • Attend county or conference events
  • Attend forums
  • Build a local advocacy group
  • Partner with AEA lobbyists
  • Show up at events
  • Donate
  • Visit the Capital