What Animal Shelters can do to Influence Policy

Guest blog by  Joe Geiger

Legitimate animal shelters do a great job when it comes to rescuing and caring for animals. But one of the most effective ways to protect animals is through policy. It is time for people who love animals to step up and engage the political process.

There are perceptions and realities that get in the way of animal lovers getting engaged. They may think: I am so small relative to the process – how could I possibly make a difference, as a 501 (c) (3) I don’t think I am permitted to get involved, the process is too complicated and I don’t know how.

Those are just reasons to not get involved. Every piece of social legislation passed in the United States has been the result of a passionate and caring person or persons getting involved in the process. The good news is that the law allows nonprofit organizations listed as charities to lobby.

So what can you do? First I think it important to say that you must be credible in your approach. Organizations bring out the most shocking and grotesque pictures to make a point.  Groups lobbying the cause can’t get their act together resulting in a confused message making it easy to get dismissed. Most legislators are animal lovers. Take advantage of that. You know more about your issues than they do. Where do you start?

Here is a top ten list:

1. Get to know your elected officials and establish a relationship with them before there is a crisis.
2. Learn a little about the legislative process – there are better times to break the ice – June is budget crunch time – this is not the right time.
3. Visit your elected officials in their home district offices – they are very distracted and busy when at the capitol.
4. Keep your communications concise, credible and have a call to action.
5. Not all elected officials are equal – know who chairs committees that address your issues as well as leadership – majority also matters but don’t ignore minority party officials.
6. Understand that the public policy process is never perfect – the outcomes are survivors of compromise – take what you can and build on it
7. Understand how much your initiatives will cost taxpayers or save tax payer dollars – government money is tight.
8. If you are representing a 501(c) (3), you are not permitted to engage in election activities – you must stay neutral in your organization approach.
9. The media can be a good ally – use them wisely.
10. Don’t embarrass a public official publicly – you need their support.

JoeJoe Geiger is the former executive director at the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations where he served as an effective public policy officer for 18 years.

 

 

For more information on effective lobbying, check out Citizen Lobbying Tips to Give Animals a Voice in Harrisburg  

Read about why social causes need political action committees: Making Animal Protection a Political Priority

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