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Decoding State Advocacy: Developing an Effective State Strategy (Deep Dive 1)

October 2, 2023 @ 2:00 pm 3:00 pm

With years of razor-thin majorities at the federal level, the most meaningful policy change is starting in the states. Join this high-level discussion to learn how smart organizations are developing state advocacy strategies to achieve big wins in the face of federal gridlock.

Anna Hall, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine
Riana King, Kaiser Permanente
Emma Salomon, Western Governors University
Matt Salomon, The ALS Association
Sarah Yi, CTIA The Wireless Association (moderator)


What are the components of an effective state strategy?

  • Make sure you have as broad a base of supporters as you can.
  • Even in partisan environments, find bipartisan support. Look for people with experience on the issue, even if it’s broadly or only tangentially related.
  • Look to former success stories – have similar bills or policies advanced in other state legislatures, or been signed into law? What did and didn’t work for those states?
  • Identify champions: who is aligned on an issue that will help you advocate for your issue? 
  • Map out political hurdles by thinking through what issues you might encounter in different committees or with other legislators.
  • Know and control your narrative by knowing the “why” – why does an issue need to be solved or addressed? Painting the “why” picture for your audience will help to bring clarity to the “what.” 
    • A shared talking points document and FAQs will help everyone tell the same story
  • Survey and center the voices of affected people and communities in the conversation through as many means as possible, and use those findings to triage and build an agenda tailored to each community and state.
  • Be flexible and adapt or pivot when needed because of the different calendars in each state. Some state legislatures are year-round, others have very short sessions, others only meet every other year.
  • Take risks and embrace a failing-forward mentality.

How do you gauge your likelihood of success (party control, super majorities, and trifectas)?

Conduct a SWOT analysis to allocate resources appropriately. 

  • Strengths: What’s your organization’s current impact on the state?
    • What are you / your community providing that is unique and valuable?
  • Weaknesses: On a long time horizon (e.g. 5 years) what will happen to your organization if a bill doesn’t pass? Where are knowledge gaps? Where are partners weak?
  • Opportunities: What do your grassroots champions and partners look like? Do you have a strong bill sponsor or other legislative allies? What other relationships do you have?
  • Threats: What policies are competitors looking at? How are your opponents already operating in the state – what do their relationships look like? Do they have the bandwidth to fight you on a specific issue? Do legislators have real or perceived conflicts of interest?

Who are the essential players on your team (contract lobbyists, coalition partners, state associations, etc) and how do you hold them accountable?

  • Key players in state advocacy include consultants, members/volunteers, coalition partners, and legislators and their staff.
    • Gauging staff capacity is key to determining what projects you can take on – and hiring consultants can help expand that capacity.
    • Well-trained members and advocates can make a big difference. Educate them as much as possible but make sure they know they can say “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you” to legislators and staff. You may have members who are social media influencers or already involved in online communities – get them onboard.
    • Coalition partners can be a force multiplier and can allow your organization to divert resources from one issue temporarily while your partners pick up the slack. Creating an issue or legislative task force as part of a coalition with dedicated staff members from the different organizations can advance policy and strategy into concrete action. Set clear boundaries in coalitions where you might not always agree or be able to work on the same issues together – work together to pick priorities in a given year or legislative session to dedicate the right resources.
    • Legislators and their staff love good press and are afraid of bad press. Legislative offices will likely have a media strategy around an issue, and will seek editorial support from newspapers and other media outlets, as well as from constituents using social media. Look for influencers among your grassroots to get the attention of staff.

How do you measure success?

  • Consider using a FIT analysis technique to determine what issues you will lead on, partner on, and monitor on depending on how they score.
  • Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) short and long-term goals, which may vary depending on the state and the policy. Perhaps your goal is just to get the bill through the committee in one year, and strive for further progress in the next session. Another goal might be strengthening relationships with coalition members or with legislators.


October 2, 2023
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
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