Approaching legislators and elected officials to showcase programs and demonstrate the value of MU Extension
By Tracy Feller, director of partnership and stakeholder development
In last month’s “Call to Action,” Marshall Stewart called on county program directors and their county extension councils to invite elected officials to programming in their areas this summer when senators and representatives are back in their districts. We are calling this effort “Summer in the District,” referring to the period each summer when elected officials return to their home districts from Jefferson City and Washington, D.C. In the past we have put a lot of emphasis on calling on them in their offices. This year we are turning that around, using the periods when they are home to them see firsthand the people, families and communities MU Extension is helping.
So where do you start?
Each regional director is prepared to assist counties and their CPDs in this effort. Mark Stewart, MU Extension’s director of off-campus operations, is coordinating the effort statewide and overseeing the master calendar of events for this project: extteam.missouri.edu/SiteDirectory/sd/SitePages/Home.aspx
We are encouraging folks to use this opportunity to showcase existing programs. Don’t try to get them there for an entire day. Be selective, and make good use of your time with them.
Start by identifying whom you want to invite, then research their areas of interest. On their websites you will find which committees they sit on and the causes they have championed. Two lines of thinking here. First, inviting them to something that is important to THEM is a sure way to pique their interest. So do your homework on what is important to them. Conversely, showing them a vital program they do not know about that affects their constituents is also a good strategy. You can use either approach.
Involve your council members, staff and faculty who may have personal relationships with officials (from county commissioners all the way up to U.S. senators). Often a written invitation followed by a personal phone call from the person has a connection is the most effective way. I keep records of the staffers who are often the gatekeepers to their bosses, and can help you in that regard.
Gather contact information. My office has contact information, which also should be available on the official’s website. Contact the staff at their local office and issue the invitation as a chance opportunity to see a valuable program and that you can create a photo opportunity for them.
Make the most of the opportunity. Once you have picked a program or event, set a date, and confirmed your main elected official, think broader. What local officials or stakeholders can you also invite? County commissioners and other local officials will often jump at the chance to be where the senators and representatives are. And remember to collect staff business cards from legislative aides for future use.
Put a face on your programming. In your presentations, make it personal. Weave in one person’s story when describing outcomes or impacts. They will retain the story longer, and perhaps later they will use it as an example themselves when they talk to others.
Follow up. Always send a thank-you note to the staffer you worked with
Thank the officials themselves for their time and interest. Then convey any staff information back to me for our main database by sending email to FellerT@missouri.edu.
With 6.6 million Missourians, it takes a village to carry out the MU Extension mission. We could not do it without you. Thank you for being our voice across the state!