Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit

The importance of government advocacy cannot be overstated. BPAA works to protect the vital interests of its members but it is up to everyone to advocate on the association’s behalf. Dozens of issues swirl throughout your local, state, and federal governments, and it is important that you be a helpful and informative resource to your public officials. The purpose of this toolkit is to educate, inform and equip BPAA members with the necessary ideas and tools to be effective advocates for the bowling proprietors’ community.

What Advocacy is and Why it Matters

Advocacy is the “promotion of an idea that is directed at changing a policy, position, or program at an institution.”(IRS, 2016) Advocacy is a valuable and powerful tool for participating in and helping influence the government’s decision-making. As a bowling proprietor, it can be difficult to navigate the current political climate, whether it’s at the local, state, or federal level. However, you do not need to be an expert on the political process to make an impact. Many of the issues that you face as a bowling proprietor are sometimes unknown to your local and federal policy makers and regulators. They rely heavily on business owners and advocates like you to help them understand the issues to make rational, intelligent decisions based on research and evidence. Consider soda tax, estate tax, minimum wage, and paid family and sick leave—all these issues and more affect you and the rest of the bowling proprietor community and it’s important that your voices be heard. As their constituents, your representatives care about your thoughts and concerns on these issues and want to learn more firsthand from a business owner like yourself. It is up to you to build a working relationship with your representatives and provide them with the information to show how certain policies will affect you, your family, your employees and your business. Establishing a relationship with your representative can put you in position to become a valuable resource and open the door to many opportunities.

How to be an Effective Advocate

Knowledge is power. Read, learn and share the legislative and regulatory issues that impact BPAA. In the government affairs section of this website, you can find BPAA’s issues areas, relevant articles, and newsletters that can help keep you up-to-date on the latest issues affecting bowling proprietors like yourself. The more knowledgeable you are on the issues, the more affective you will be as a resource to your public officials and community.
They say strength is in numbers. Reach out to others in the BPAA community, discuss the issues and help each other stay informed. You may often be facing a damaging bill or other obstacle that your colleagues have already faced in a different city, district or state. Engaging in dialogue with others in the bowling proprietor community is an instrumental way to reach solutions.
Putting pen to paper is a strong way to educate the community and policymakers. Writing an op-ed or letter to the editor can create or further a discussion about your interests and help increase publicity for your business. Also, an op-ed or letter to the editor is an effective way to spread your message and express your thoughts in a structured and well-thought-out manner. Not many people feel comfortable engaging the media, but it is important that your voice be heard if for the sake of your company, the business community and the hard working families of your district or state.
Relationship building is key to becoming a resource to your elected officials and an effective advocate. Many members of Congress and legislators at the state and local level have events in their districts when in recess or on weekends. Attend these events to get to know your elected official and his or her staff. Be sure to do research prior to the event to learn, for example, whether during previous legislative sessions the legislator filed bills that support or hurt the business community. Use your best judgement and social skills to be a good representative for BPAA, and be prepared to ask and answer questions.

Town Hall

Elected officials and candidates occasionally will host a town hall in your area. You are encouraged to attend to not only learn the issues your community is facing, but because these events are a good way to network with others that care about your issues. Before attending, do your research on the legislator(s) participating in the town hall, and be prepared to take notes and ask questions. To find an upcoming town hall near you, consider monitoring the legislator’s website or Facebook page, and visit www.townhallproject.com.

Special Events

Bowling centers are known for being prime locations for special events. From a birthday party to a national championship tournament, bowling centers draw a crowd. When there is a crowd, there is an opportunity to show your public officials the great work you do as a business for the local community. Take advantage of the events you organize at your center by inviting your legislators to be involved. Elected officials and candidates take every chance they can get to be a part of local events. Being able to tie in your legislative priorities while helping the elected official or candidate gain exposure is a great way to not only advocate for your interests but build a relationship with your representative.

Meeting with your legislator

Meeting face-to-face with your local, state or federal elected official is a strong way to express your views and recommendations on the issues that are affecting you and your business. To set up a meeting, contact the legislator’s nearest office and request a 30-minute meeting with the legislator. More than likely, if the office is willing to meet, they will have you meet with a staffer. Meeting with the staffer is perfectly fine, as they represent the legislator and will have more time than the elected official to work with you on the matter going forward. For a template of a meeting request email, please see below:

Subject: Meeting Request – Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America

Body:

[Insert Name of Staffer],

I hope this finds you well. I am a constituent from your district, and the [insert job title] of the [name bowling center]. I am also a member of the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America, a national organization that represents a majority of the bowling centers in the United States, and extends to all 50 states and virtually every major market. I would really appreciate the opportunity to meet with [insert elected official title and name] to discuss [insert issue].

Would it be possible to meet with [elected official] sometime on [date] to discuss [issue]?

Thank you for your consideration, [Your name]

Send Email Now
Create talking points for your meeting and stick to them. Do not attend a meeting without first understanding the objective, whether it include a specific ask, an introduction, or an offer to be a resource. Before the meeting, identify the priorities and plan to explain them. If you have materials or fact sheets to offer to the meeting, bring extras to distribute along with multiple business cards.
You will want to ask yourself if you are meeting with the elected official, a seasoned staffer, or a staffer that is new to the issue. Approach the meeting with the understanding that you may have to educate them on the issues or you will have the opportunity to ask questions and segue to your fact sheet. Also, note the party affiliation of the office and research ahead of time what position the elected official and/or party has taken on the issue.
Stories about real people and consequences are powerful ways to promote action. Supply facts and use local case examples that help them better understand your issue. You have a better chance of success if you bring to the elected official or staffer a compelling case that will stick with them after the meeting.
There is no need to rush or overload the staffer with information. Allow opportunities for them to ask questions and explore the issues. This is important to understand what concerns you must address to win their support. Also, building a relationship is a steady process that may result in having to reach out at a later time to explore additional topics.
Before the meeting, anticipate what the elected official or staffer may ask, so you are prepared when faced with the question. However, if you do not know the answer, say you will find out the answer and get back to them. This is also a good way to stay in touch with them and continue to build the relationship.
It is important to begin the relationship on the right foot. It is equally important to maintain a healthy relationship going forward. It is not worth arguing or burning any bridges over a disagreement. Rather use it as an opportunity to ask questions and show how the issue affects you, your business, and your employees.
How you close the meeting can determine its success. Be sure to leave them with a final thought and a one-page fact sheet that summarizes your position and your request. Be polite and confident in your conclusion.
Write a “thank you” email to the legislator and staffer(s). In the email, summarize the meeting and reiterate your message. Attach the one-pager you brought to the meeting and any additional information that was requested. If the legislator or staffer agreed to take action, ask for an update on that activity. As always, ask how you can be a resource to them in the future.
Hosting a site visit is an excellent way to build relationships with your elected officials and increase exposure for your business. Elected officials want to see firsthand how their policies are affecting their constituents and how your business is contributing to the economy and community. Arrange the visit when your legislator is in his or her district and be flexible, as their schedules are hectic. If you attend a town hall, district meeting, or other special event, always consider personally inviting the legislator to visit your business.

Tips for Hosting a site visit

To set up a site visit with an elected official, contact his or her closest office and submit a formal request at least 6 weeks in advance. You can either call the legislator’s office or send an email just as you would for a meeting request. If you have previously had a meeting with the elected official’s staffer, use him or her as your contact to set up the site visit. For a template of a site visit request email, please see the suggestion below:

Subject: Site Visit Request – Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America

Body: [Insert Name of Staffer],

I hope this finds you well. I am a constituent from your district, and the [insert job title] of the [name of bowling center]. I am also a member of the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America, a national organization that represents a majority of the bowling centers in the United States, and extends to all 50 states and virtually every major market. I am writing to request a site visit by [insert elected official title and name] to [name of center] to [purpose of visit].

The visit would take place on [date] at [time], at [location]. Attending along with me are [any business partners or others of importance]. Please let me know if [name of elected official would be available to visit our center.

Thank you for your consideration,

[Your name]

Send Email Now
Building a relationship with the local media can lead to many opportunities. The media can offer a wide outlet for you to educate your community, influence public officials, and increase exposure for your business. Once you have managed to set up a site visit with the elected official, it is crucial that you work with the legislator’s communications director or press secretary, as well as local television news stations and newspapers to cover the event. Create a media advisory that you can send around to local news outlets in order to garner a solid media presence. The media advisory is the what, why, who, when and where for this event. It should be short and sweet and make the event sound interesting and newsworthy. If possible, be sure to send the advisory out a few days before the date of the event. If the media is unable to attend, you are encouraged to take pictures and produce a summary that you can provide to the media following the site visit.
Preparation is everything. Be sure to meet with your staff prior to the visit to educate them on the elected official and the purpose of the visit. Be prepared to greet the elected official, escort him or her through your facility, and answer any questions he or she may ask. Just as you would prepare for a meeting, know your message, the ask(s), and your target. Before the visit concludes, be sure to make your request for legislation that may be necessary for the success of your business. In conclusion, thank them for their time and offer to be a resource to them in the future.
Write a “thank you” email to the legislator and staffer(s). In the email, recap the highlights of the site visit and reiterate your request to the elected official. Be sure to also include any photos, press stories, and any additional information that was requested. As always, ask how you can be a resource to them in the future. Send a media release to local, state, and national news outlets. As mentioned earlier, if the media could not attend, send photos and a summary around to local news outlets.


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If you are in need of assistance in drafting a letter, scheduling a visit, contacting your representative, or any of the other suggestions listed in the Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit, please contact Tom Schreibel at tbschreibel@michaelbeststrategies.com.