School Nutrition Fast Facts
American Heart Association science-approved fast facts for campaigns focused on Healthy School Meals.
When all students have access to no-cost, healthy school meals, children’s nutrition security improves, and school food service programs grow stronger. Since federal funding for no-cost school meals has expired, states can and must fill in the gap and ensure healthy school meals for all students.
Providing healthy school meals for all students was an extremely successful federal program enacted during the pandemic. That funding has expired, and now children who depended on it are going hungry again. States are stepping up to fill in the gap and ensure that all children, regardless of family income, can obtain healthy meals throughout the year and have the best chance to learn.
The benefits of healthy school meals for all were clear: the policy reduced food insecurity and improved children’s nutrition and academic success. More students ate school meals, which strengthened school budgets, and food service programs became more streamlined.
Throughout this toolkit, you’ll find information and resources that can help you advocate for states to secure healthy school meals for all students. Voices for Healthy Kids is committed to ensuring that all children get nutritious, no-cost meals they need to thrive in school.
Federal child nutrition waivers passed during the pandemic decreased child hunger and poverty, allowing all students to access free school meals. That funding expired in the fall of 2022, and now children who depended on it are going hungry again. States are stepping up to fill in the gap and ensure that all children, regardless of family income, can obtain healthy meals throughout the year and have the best chance to learn and thrive in school.
Healthy school meals for all benefit students’ health and food security. School meals provide needed nutrients: students who eat school lunches tend to take in more whole grains, vegetables, and dairy and fewer refined sugars and empty calories than those who bring their lunches from home. Food insufficiency also dropped by 14% among students who participated in the National School Lunch Program’s free or reduced-priced lunch meals. Healthy school meals benefit students’ academics, too. When students have more nutritious diets, they tend to perform better and pay more attention in school.
Healthy school meals for all would eliminate issues of unpaid school meal debt and reduce administrative paperwork, freeing up school nutrition staff to focus on feeding kids. For example, when New York City opted into healthy school meals for all, it not only increased student participation in school meals, the school food service program in the city also received nearly $62 million more in federal and state meal reimbursement for a single school year.
Providing no-cost, healthy school meals to all students helps children thrive in school and in life. Throughout this toolkit, you will find helpful information for building out your own advocacy efforts aimed at providing healthy school meals for all students in your state.
No matter what issue your campaign is focused on or which organization leads it, there are three key phases to each campaign: recruit, engage, and mobilize. Throughout this toolkit and the sections within Build a Campaign, you will find guides to recruiting and activating an advocate base, spreading the word online, alerting local media, and communicating with state and local public officials to encourage inclusive policies that support health and improve the economy in your communities.
Make sure you have designated time for planning, launching, and executing your campaign, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments along the way as you gain more information about your advocates and community leaders.
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American Heart Association science-approved fast facts for campaigns focused on Healthy School Meals.
Informational materials, like core background details and stats, in one page.
Informational materials, like core background details and stats, in one page.
Downloadable and shareable designs for your work.
This first phase of the campaign is where you lay the groundwork that will ensure your success.
To start, think about these questions:
Who are likely to be your strongest allies?
Who can be your spokespeople? Who has the greatest credibility on this issue? To whom will decision makers listen?
What organizations are likely to partner with you? What do they bring to the table?
Who are likely to be your opponents? Who are their regular opponents?
Where do members of various ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, disability, and racial groups in the community regularly congregate?
What are the organizations in your community that represent different racial and ethnic communities? How can you build authentic bridges to those groups to engage them in your campaign?
What are the organizations that work with youth with disabilities? How can you build authentic bridges to those groups to engage them in your campaign?
Are there any alliances with community planners or developers, doctors, dietitians, nurses, researchers, educators, or city or county health department officials that could be explored?
Who do you want to be your “everyday advocates,” the large group of people who speak out about the issues at hand?
Do these “everyday advocates” represent the diversity of the communities most affected by the need for policy change?
Where can you gather stories to share about your issue and how it affects your community?
Remember to consider reaching out to both organizations and individuals who might be interested in supporting your campaign. Reach out to these potential advocates via all channels available to you: social media, existing member databases, personal emails, blogs, paid advertisements, community outreach, tabling at street fairs and festivals, public announcements at places of worship, etc.
Be sure to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate materials; the wider you can cast your net, the more likely you are to recruit a diverse audience that cares about the changes you want to make. Stretch beyond your comfort zone.
Once you determine who is on your side, start thinking about how to garner support from public officials and other important leaders. In many cases, you will want to share your message with supporters and ask them to send a letter to key government officials so these leaders recognize the need for healthy school meals for all students. Keep in mind that it is not lobbying to ask people to contact legislators to raise awareness about a general policy issue or to influence an administrative action. But if your communication refers to legislation or legislative proposals and asks people to contact legislators, then it is lobbying. You can do this outreach through numerous channels:
Letters to legislators or community leaders
Phone calls to legislators or to members of the community during a recruitment push
Social media posts and shares
Public service announcements
Letters to the editor
Finally, before you execute any of the tactics in this toolkit, make sure you establish your metrics of success. Determine how you will measure the effectiveness of your campaign’s communications no matter what they may be. Some examples of things to measure include:
Media impressions (both initial and follow up)
Likes and retweets
Open and click-through rates on emails
Deploying a campaign isn’t just about mobilizing your supporters to act in support of your cause. A true advocacy campaign is, at its core, an opportunity to draw more supporters in and retain them for future engagements to improve the health of your community. The following recruitment guidelines will help you accomplish these goals.
In this section, you’ll learn about recruiting new advocates through a variety of tactics, including events, online, word-of-mouth, tapping into your competitors, and engaging in your community. Pick and choose the best recruitment options for your campaign and build a plan around it.
Note that these tips are suggestions, not requirements. Choose the approach and tactics that work best for you, your organization, and your community. Regardless of how you decide to recruit new supporters, make sure you dedicate sufficient resources to communicating with the diverse audience you hope to engage.
For instance, if you are trying to reach:
Latino audiences: consider the need for translators and translated materials; build meaningful relationships with Latino-led and serving organizations that can help with recruitment. Remember to be authentic with your outreach. Get to know your audience and what messaging and resources will be most helpful to them.
Decision makers: consider connecting with leaders who have successfully advocated for similar programs in their communities to use as examples and champions for the efforts in your community.
Disability audiences: make sure all of your marketing materials are in an accessible format. Be sure to include appropriate language and images that depict the disability community. Build meaningful relationships with disability led and serving organizations that can help you with recruitment and identify leadership roles within the campaign. Be sure to include people with disability in the planning process so you don’t miss the mark in your marketing.
Every event your organization hosts, as well as those events that you attend, should include an easy way for people to learn more about your efforts and get involved. Remember to follow up with any connections you make after the event is over to keep your name, organization, and cause top of mind. The immediate reconnection will help ensure that you stand out, remind them of your campaign, and will begin to create name recognition that will help automatically initiate engagement the next time you reach out.
There are several ways to share information and engage new supporters at events, including the examples below:
Be sure to speak the relevant language and topic of the event. If you do not speak the language, or are not credible on the topic of discussion, find another supporter who would be better suited for this environment.
Bring tablets or mobile devices. You want to be sure to have tools on hand that are easy to use and extremely portable in order to offer a simple and effective way to collect names, twitter handles, and emails on-site.
Offer hard copy, printed sign-up forms or advocacy resources. This option is easy and cheap to initiate. For example, asking people to fill out a pre-written postcard to an elected official on a non-legislative issue can provide a compelling reason for people to share their personal information right on the spot (and because it does not involve legislation, you may use non-lobbying funds).
Remember that transcribing these names into a computer-friendly format will take time, but sometimes this method is preferred to using electronic devices. Be sure to have resources on hand that appeal to a broad base of event attendees.
Try business card recruitment. The less effort it takes to sign up, the more people will do so.
For example, if you are hosting an event with key business leaders in your community, ask everyone to leave their business cards behind to join the cause. You may pull in more names than with a traditional sign-up form because this sign-up process is so easy.
Asking people to write their legislator about a general policy issue is not lobbying unless the request is tied to specific legislation or a specific legislative proposal.
It is important to show potential advocates that joining your effort will make a difference. Potential recruits are much more likely to take action when they believe that doing so will have an impact.
Remember to gather key information by expanding what you are asking for. When recruiting, ask for more than just a name. It’s often helpful to have additional details that will help you gauge how to interact with this individual, perhaps by gathering information about what schools their children attend, what local organizations they are involved with, as well as how they prefer to be contacted (email, text, or phone call).
Be sure to follow up with a secondary ask to engage new recruits. Ask them to take part in your campaign with an easy, introductory action like signing a petition.
Address issues head-on. Do not be afraid to use conflict or controversy where appropriate as a motivator to spark involvement. People like to engage on issues where there are strong opinions, and using emotional triggers is often an effective tactic when messaging to new advocates.
Do not limit yourself to only recruiting via in-person events. There may be a large pool of new advocates you can reach online as well. We have a broader Social Media Tips section in our resources tab, but here are a few tips to get started:
Engage social media friends and followers of your personal accounts, as well as those you manage for local organizations, by sharing why you are passionate about this issue and then asking your followers to tell their friends about your campaign. Offer easily shareable content like memes or brief videos to broaden your reach.
Ask your followers to retweet or share invitations to join your efforts either through an online sign-up form or by attending the next in-person event.
Add a sign-up form to Facebook. If you add a special tab to your Facebook page, fans will be able to take advocacy actions without leaving the Facebook platform.
Advertising on Facebook and Twitter can be inexpensive, targeted, and effective. Nonprofits use this medium to get people to sign petitions, volunteer, and/or attend free events, as well as generate awareness for a campaign. You can even narrow the reach down to the city level and localize content to make engagement more likely.
Current advocates can be your best recruiters! Are your advocates telling their friends and families about their work with your campaign? Be sure you are keeping them well informed and giving them exciting, meaningful ways to engage. If you foster true enthusiasm, they will be excited to tell others!
Encourage advocates to mention your campaign amongst the other groups in which they are involved (e.g., civic organizations, fitness classes, etc.), as well as in conversations they have with other folks in the community. Be sure to include culturally and linguistically appropriate materials and messages to empower your advocates for these recruitment opportunities. Provide the tools necessary to make this an easy task for advocates: sample talking points, a one-pager about your campaign, or a stack of recruitment forms.
Ask parents to get their local parent organizations to support your cause. Encouraging the health of children and making sure all kids have access to healthy school meals is a shared passion for parents, so educating them about your cause and how it will help kids in your community is a great way to reach new advocates with similar interests.
Ask your neighbors to mention the impact of your issue at their community organization meetings. People who are involved in the community have already demonstrated a dedication to improving the lifestyles of residents in your town and are most likely open to hearing about additional needs and ways they can get involved.
Ask faith leaders to get involved. Engaging leaders in the faith community is a great way to connect with community members, especially in under-resourced communities.
Reach out through civic organizations in your community. Ask to speak at a meeting or luncheon of the Junior League, Kiwanis Club, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, or other local organizations. Emphasize that having an active and healthy community is a shared responsibility. Be sure to provide details on the different roles of state and community partners.
Some healthy competition among your existing advocate base can help bring new followers to your organization.
Challenge your existing advocates to recruit friends and family. Offer a prize to whoever can recruit the most friends and followers online. Create pre-written tweets and Facebook posts and then count shares and retweets. When possible, make sure the prize is inclusive, health-related, or at least does not send an unhealthy message.
Then, host a celebration to welcome new advocates to your organization and thank those who participated in the effort.
What does your target audience like to do? Instead of creating new events, meet them where they currently gather.
Attend community festivals. Host booths at street fairs or carnivals, and ask attendees to sign up.
Collaborate with local schools. Host a table at back-to-school night, parent-teacher conference days, or school fairs, and encourage students to form an on-campus group in support of your cause.
Reach out to local places of worship. Recruit members to attend local events and organize meetings through bulletin advertisements and in-person announcements. If services are held in more than one language, develop recruitment plans and messaging for those as well. Make sure that your materials are culturally and linguistically competent.
Leverage the response of your state and local legislators to encourage advocates to recruit more friends to the cause.
Emails to advocates or the general public won’t be considered lobbying unless your message refers to pending legislation or to a specific legislative proposal and includes a call-to-action. For advice on crafting non-lobbying messages that refer to legislators, see our Lobbying vs. Non-Lobbying Checklist in the related resources at the bottom of this page.
There are many different ways to recruit new advocates. Make sure to use the recruitment methods that are most appropriate for building a diverse group of supporters who can best connect with the audience you hope to engage.
Make the recruitment and sign-up process as easy and accessible as possible for your potential supporters. Offer different ways for them to get involved and take action.
Not all potential volunteers will have regular access to the Internet, so make sure you recruit both on and offline.
Some recruitment tactics may constitute lobbying. Make sure to check with your lawyers before referencing specific initiatives or legislation.
There are many organizations that work to increase access to healthy, no-cost school meals. Some are singularly focused on one topic while others look at broader issues. While some groups may not perfectly align with your goals for this campaign, it is still worth reaching out to them, as they may be valuable partners for other programs you are pursuing or some of your long-term organizational goals. Be sure to review the Diverse Audiences section when considering who might be a potential ally.
In your recruitment efforts, make sure to also include organizations that are minority led. Work to ensure you include these groups in true collaboration and engage them throughout the campaign. Simply reaching out to ask an organization to sign a letter of support and not engaging any further is not supporting diversity within your campaign and your campaign will not be as strong as it could be because of that oversight.
Below are some suggestions for potential partners in your community:
Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) and school districts
School board members
Local food policy councils
City, county and state public health departments
Those committed to increasing access to healthy, no-cost school meals
Nonprofit hospitals and healthcare organizations
Those focused on health and wellness for families with low incomes
Those focused on health and wellness for historically under-served communities
Local school organizations
Groups focused on social justice and civil rights in communities of color
Local faith leaders
Minority-focused press and media outlets
Groups focused on child welfare
Groups focused on nutrition education
Groups focused on food justice
Health care providers
Although some potential allies will be publicly outspoken about their opinions on your topic, others will be subtler in their approach. Before deciding on any potential partner or opponent, be sure to look at their goals, mission statement, programs, and activities to ensure they align with your priorities.
Partners can come from a wide variety of backgrounds—from broader faith-based groups to groups solely committed to helping kids grow up at a healthy weight. Cast a wide net to make sure you reach as many potential allies as possible.
Make sure you understand your potential allies’ goals, priorities, and programs before engaging with them.
It’s no surprise that engaged and motivated advocates are more likely to take additional actions, like submitting a letter to the editor, signing a petition, or attending a rally. As you conduct your campaign, recognizing and thanking your advocates for their contribution to your efforts will be crucial in gaining and retaining your support base.
A strong campaign starts with a strong recruitment push. By creating a foundation of supporters early, you will have them ready to activate when the time comes. Consider the following ways to grow your base of support by recognizing these new advocates:
Small gifts branded with your organization’s logo (for example, water bottles or USB drives) can be a fun reward for signing up. To make resources stretch a bit further, consider offering incentives to the first 50 or 100 people who sign up on a specific day, or giving prizes to advocates for recruiting the largest number of new supporters.
Exclusive opportunities, like the chance to meet with your organization’s leadership or serve on a volunteer advisory panel.
Certificates or trophies for reaching key milestones, especially when presented at a public event.
Invitations to attend volunteer receptions or special events.
Special training opportunities or communications that provide unique opportunities for your advocates to increase their knowledge and skill base.
Whether you are reaching out to new or existing advocates, we suggest taking advantage of specific times of the year when engagement with community initiatives is traditionally high. Leverage local festivals, sporting events, or key moments in time on the academic calendars of local schools. Consider creating recognition pieces around local street fairs, festivals, or kids’ sporting events (such as opening day of Little League), with free entry or food tickets.
Speak up when it is time to vote in local or state-wide elections. If the local government is voting on measures pertaining to your campaign’s focus, this is a key time to recognize existing and potential advocates who can help bring attention to the issue and kick start the momentum for policy change. If you have the lobbying resources to do so, asking advocates to contact their legislators to vote for the measure you care about—and then thanking the advocates when they do—is an important step.
Urging advocates to contact legislators may be grassroots lobbying. Asking people to contact members or staff of Congress, a state legislature, tribal government, county council, or city council is lobbying if you refer to and reflect a view on specific legislation (or a specific legislative proposal). However, contacting school boards, zoning board members, or school staff is not lobbying, regardless of the content of the communication. Make sure you have the resources to pay for these lobbying activities and that you track them appropriately against your campaign’s overall budget.
Use the calendar to inspire you. Create recognition pieces around key observances taking place throughout the year (e.g. International School Meals Day, First Day of School) where you can spotlight and thank advocates for their efforts to improve access to healthy, no-cost school meals.
Volunteers are not the only ones who make a campaign a success. As you thank your volunteers for their efforts, make sure to thank the staff members who keep the campaign running every day, when applicable. Celebrate them publicly. If you hold an annual celebration, highlight the good work the staff has done over the past year. Offering awards or opportunities to acknowledge good work publicly lets employees know you recognize and value their work.
Conduct a staff contest to see which members can bring in the most advocates over a specified period. In return, offer a day off or a gift card as an incentive. Highlight the diversity of your staff to demonstrate the importance of engaging all parts of the community. This is particularly important in the disability community. Be sure to staff individuals with a disability to be most effective.
Ask your strongest recruiters of new advocates to lead a call or webinar, so they can share their tips with other staff members.
It is important to recognize and thank volunteers for their commitment to your cause.
Rewarding new volunteers with small gifts can help increase sign-up rates and excite them about being involved.
Do not forget about your staff—they deserve thanks too.
Phase 1 is for making introductions; phase 2 is about building relationships through education and engagement.
This is the perfect time to start building relationships. Stay in regular communication with your activists so that they remain engaged, informed, and ready to take action when you need. Start building relationships with the media, who tend to respond best to people who are organized, clear, polite, and have newsworthy things for them to write about.
When preparing your media outreach efforts, use the following to determine if your story has one or more of these newsworthy hooks:
Timely: It’s an issue happening now, being talked about now, or being covered now in the media.
Relevant : The pitch applies to the state/region the outlet covers and to its audience.
Surprising: The pitch is an unusual way to tell a story previously told, contains an unusual voice, or there is a real story that tells the story in a surprising way.
Provocative: The pitch makes the reporter/editor think, analyze, etc., and they believe it will do the same for their audience.
Controversial: There is another side to the story, and it makes for good debate.
Media engagement should include both minority-serving and mainstream press. Be sure to check out the toolkit sections that provide sample introductory language for your social media and e-communication efforts directed at advocates and media.
Additionally, this is the time to start working with a diverse group of spokespeople relevant to your community by beginning to train others to serve as the voices of your campaign. Remember to think about your whole community, including those with a disability, and make sure all groups within the community have authentic engagement. Use the media and key messaging tips in this toolkit as a place to start. Make sure your spokespeople are familiar with your talking points so they are confident when speaking in public or with media. Lastly, be sure to schedule your press conferences and events so that you give reporters and community members ample notice to ensure optimal coverage.
Engaging with diverse audiences makes good sense; the most successful campaigns are often the ones that speak to and engage as many different people as possible. Priority populations—including people living in high-poverty, urban areas (particularly African American and Latino), people living in high-poverty, rural areas, and people with disability — are particularly important to engage as partners and advocates. These populations disproportionately carry the burden of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Below are some questions designed to make you think about who you are reaching out to and how. The following are thought-starters and not an exhaustive list:
Who is on our team already?
Look at your volunteer base, your advisors, and your staff.
Does your team have people from different backgrounds and experiences?
Do they represent the communities where you want to have the most impact—particularly if those communities are historically underserved? If not, where are the opportunities to do more?
How are we recruiting and engaging? If your team is not as diverse as it could be, consider expanding the ways you recruit and engage volunteers.
For instance, not everyone has access to the internet; if your campaign is based heavily online, you may be limiting who is able to join your efforts. Pen-and-paper recruitment and offline volunteer opportunities can help make sure more people are able to get involved.
Consider attending community-wide events or activities where you can engage with people face-to-face.
Contact local civic and community-based organizations and ask to share more about your efforts during their membership meetings.
Where are we recruiting and engaging? When it comes to getting people involved, location is just as important as technique.
Are you reaching out to local faith communities, civic organizations focused on people of color and Indigenous communities, civil rights groups, Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Hispanic-Serving Institutions/Tribal Institutions, Black Greek Letter Organizations, and the ethnic small business community?
Many faith communities have separate services in different languages. Are you equipped to speak to these audiences in different languages?
Are you getting face time? Try tabling at events that draw a diverse crowd or collaborating with the local ethnic Chamber of Commerce.
What is the accessibility like where you are recruiting? Can people with disability get to the meetings via accessible public transportation or complete streets? Are the meeting sites accessible and compliant with ADA standards?
Who are we talking to?
Make sure you are working with non-mainstream news outlets in your area, as well as the commonly read outlets. There may be newspapers, radio stations, or television networks geared toward diverse communities, particularly non-English-speakers and people of color. Ethnic media coverage can both provide new and different angles to your campaign and encourage diverse audiences to get involved with your work.
Is language a barrier to access?
If there are non-English-speakers in your area, consider having your materials translated and easily accessible at events and online. If you are planning to host phone banks, engage multilingual volunteers. In addition, if you are planning to table at events where people are likely to speak another language, make sure the people staffing your booth speak those languages.
All materials should be graded on accessibility and readability levels. Documents should be written at a 6th-grade comprehension level or lower
Is our team being receptive and inclusive?
Getting people to sign up or take action is one thing; fostering a welcoming, affirming, accessible environment is another. Listen to what your volunteers, advisors, and staff members say about your campaign, and strive for an environment where everyone has a seat at the table.
Strive to create an environment where partners can take part in the decision-making process, and ensure their considerations are considered.
Are we considering unique cultural perspectives?
Every culture has its own nuanced way of thinking and talking about issues. Try to learn what these issues are ahead of time.
Do not be afraid of what you do not know. Be open to learning, and allow your partners to help guide you in understanding these cultural perspectives and their lived experiences.
What else can we do?
Throughout your campaign, keep asking yourself the types of questions listed above. There are always opportunities to open your doors wider and expand your reach further.
Inclusiveness should be an integral part of your campaign, from start to finish.
Language, accessibility, and cultural barriers can prevent people from getting involved with your campaign.
Think strategically where you are recruiting and engaging. It is important to go to the people and organizations you hope to engage rather than expecting that interested parties will always come to you.
There are always opportunities to create a more inclusive, welcoming community.
It is going to take community support to ensure children in your community have access to healthy, no-cost school meals. Fortunately, social media allows you to share your message with a wider audience than traditional door-to-door grassroots work can. With a few clicks, you can access the right people at the right moment, making them aware of the issue and garnering their support. The following tips will help you do just that: extend your community of advocates online to create an even bigger groundswell of support for the cause. National experts may already have sample resources you can model after or tailor for use in your campaign.
Posts with multimedia, such as videos and images, drive higher engagement rates and increased reach—people like looking and clicking on images and video. Below is a quick overview of how you can best put multimedia to use on Facebook and Twitter:
Choose a diverse range of people. It’s important that different groups see people that look like themselves in the images you use. This is particularly important for people with disability as they often feel left out of the images and conversations.
Only use content you own. If your organization has an existing photo library, search to see if anything can be repurposed. Getty Images offers free, non-commercial use of any of its stock images on social media and blog sites when you use its embed feature. They also have a new gallery of images of people with disability if you don’t currently have any inclusive content.
Ask your advocates to sign release forms. Photos of real-life advocates are always ideal. Just remember that anyone you spotlight online—whether in stories, photos, or videos—must sign an authorization release form. Ask your organization for the appropriate forms.
Repurpose print materials online. The fact sheets and graphics included in this toolkit can easily be posted or linked to on Facebook and Twitter.
The graphics are especially useful as a featured image to supplement your social posts.
Invite advocates to print the one-pager and post it at work or around their neighborhood.
Save a PDF of the fact sheet and link to it from your post, inviting advocates to read and learn more or share it with friends and family.
Highlight your advocates. If you have access to a video camera or even a smartphone, consider creating a video of advocate stories. Ask your advocates to talk about their role in the campaign and why they support programs that help kids live healthier lives. Be sure to produce videos in appropriate languages spoken in the community.
Stories of real-life advocates can be one of the most effective measures for swaying decision makers, because they represent actual constituents’ opinions on the policies you care about.
You can greatly improve smartphone video with a few simple steps. Always hold your smartphone horizontally, shoot in brightly lit areas, and try for the best audio possible. You can improve the audio quality greatly with inexpensive microphones you can easily buy online.
Be sure to include closed captioning on all videos. YouTube offers this service, however, you may need to go in and edit the text for accuracy.
Create mini-documentaries. For example, a short film highlighting the story of kids in your community and how they are impacted by the lack of healthy, no-cost school meals. Keep in mind that the most viewed and shared videos are less than 90 seconds.
Especially if you already have an established presence, Facebook can be an excellent way to engage your existing advocates and recruit new ones. Below are a few tips for spreading the word on Facebook:
Use your existing account. Do not create a new page just for this issue. This way, when new people “like” your page because of this issue, they will also stay in the loop on your other initiatives.
Recruit new members right from Facebook. Consider creating a registration app on your page so users can sign up to be a part of the effort without even leaving Facebook. You can point potential advocates to the registration app through Facebook ads and posts on your wall.
Highlight key posts by pinning them to the top of your page. Select the drop down arrow on the right-hand corner of your post and choose to pin it to the top of your page if you’d like to call attention to it for a certain period of time.
Use images to help advocates identify with your cause. Consider using the graphics in this toolkit to do the following:
Make one of them your page’s cover photo, and ask advocates to tag themselves and their friends in the image. That way, their tags show up on their newsfeed and in their friends’ notifications.
Encourage advocates to make the graphics their cover photo or profile picture as well. The advocates’ friends will see the images on their profiles, helping to raise awareness about the issue. Make sure to give advocates a caption to go with their post telling viewers to go to your site to help.
On Twitter, encourage advocates to make one of the graphics their banner picture so their followers will see the image.
Share the message with decision makers. Many states’ decision makers have an online presence, which can be an effective venue for them to hear from advocates.
As advocates tag themselves in your cover photo, encourage them to tag their decision makers as well. Note that some decision makers may have set their privacy to restrict this.
Encourage advocates to tag their decision makers in their Facebook posts about your issue’s support.
A post that tags a legislator should be considered a direct communication to that legislator, so it will be lobbying if it reflects a view on specific legislation. A post that does not tag a legislator is a public communication and will be lobbying only if it reflects a view on specific legislation and it includes a call-to-action. Note that if a social media post constitutes lobbying, the staff time related to writing the post is attributable to lobbying, however small the cost of that staff time may be.
Ask advocates for a response.
Create posts that encourage advocates to interact.
Keep them accountable.
Highlight partners. There may be other community organizations working on the same or related issues.
Consider working with them to highlight each other’s work in Facebook posts. That way, your mention will show up on their channels (and vice versa), giving you leverage to reach their community for recruitment purposes.
Promote your posts. Promoted posts take highlighted posts one step further by elevating them in your fans’ newsfeeds. Promoted posts have a nominal cost and their benefits are far-reaching.
Promoted posts come with a range of pricing options, depending on how many fans your page has and how many people you would like to reach with your post. You will have the option to elevate your post in your fans’ newsfeeds or in both their newsfeeds and their friends’ newsfeeds. On top of this, you can target promoted posts by age, gender, and location. You can promote posts right from your Facebook page; look in the lower right-hand corner of the post you want to elevate. Click on “Boost Post,” select your dollar amount and audience reach, and then enter credit card details for payment.
Create an ad campaign through Facebook Ads Manager. You can also turn promoted posts into a wider Facebook advertising campaign, which will allow you to target specific audiences in a way not feasible from your Facebook page.
Select the objective for your campaign (most likely to promote your posts or your page).
Select the page or post you would like to promote.
Follow the steps to set up your Facebook Ads account.
Define the audience(s) you’d like to reach and how much budget you’d like to spend (even a small amount will make a difference and get results). First, select age and gender targeting and then type in interests. Remember to include broad interest topics to reach as wide an audience as possible.
For targeting based on location, workplace, behavior, school, relationship status, or languages, click the appropriate button and add in targeting criteria. Consider groups you used during your recruitment phase—parents or teachers, for example—and target them based on related interests like local parenting groups or the Parent Teacher Association.
You can also target audiences based on whether they are already fans of your organization on Facebook.
Select photos or videos from your page to include in the ad if needed. You could also upload new content directly during this step. As always, make sure the images and language are inclusive and represent our diverse communities.
Finally, place your order and launch your paid campaign!
Social media can be a powerful way to share your message with a broader, more diverse audience.
People respond well to posts with multimedia, so try to include images and video you own whenever possible.
Use social media to encourage advocates to interact on social media channels and as a way to support your offline activities.
A small investment in paid advertising, like Facebook ads, can make a big difference for your campaign.
With more than 6.9 million active users on Twitter every day and 552 million daily, active users on Facebook, social media can serve as a powerful tool to amplify your message and reach highly targeted audiences. Just as consumers are increasingly turning to social media for news, so are journalists. While they use social media to follow items of personal interest and to interact with their own networks, they also use it to research stories and follow trends.
Start with research. Before you begin engaging with journalists, make sure to research their backgrounds. This will help you personalize your messages, reference relevant past articles, and explain why you have contacted them.
Try email, too. Most journalists prefer to be contacted through email, not on social media. If you do not have an existing relationship with a journalist, a well-written email may be more effective than a tweet. Try sending an email introducing yourself and your issue first and then following up with a tweet to connect with the reporter on multiple platforms.
You can also post a comment on the news outlet’s website under the online version of the news story.
Do not begin with a pitch if this is your first time contacting this person.
Though it is generally not appropriate to pitch over Twitter, you can use it to get on a journalist’s radar. Start by following the reporter on Twitter and retweeting or commenting on content you find interesting.
Be respectful. It is important to be mindful of journalists’ time and to remember that all interactions are public. Don’t mass tweet pitches to several reporters and outlets.
Be careful with direct messages. Do not ask a journalist you are not following to send you a direct message. Only people who follow one another can send each other direct messages.
Be transparent and disclose your job/purpose/association in your bio or your introductory email.
Employ a conversational tone and avoid buzzwords.
Always begin by listening to the existing conversation.
Identify opportunities to be current and relevant.
Be prepared to carry on a conversation with your followers.
Include hyperlinks for additional information or to cite your resources.
Use relevant hashtags when appropriate to help your comments show up in larger conversations.
Use handles or tag the names of people (e.g., policymakers, organizations, reporters) whose attention you are trying to garner.
Focus on facts and avoid entering into editorial disagreements or arguments.
Begin with an email, then continue to engage with journalists on social media to help build valuable media relationships.
Make sure to research journalists’ backgrounds so you can tailor any messages you send to them.
Don’t start off with a pitch. Use social media to get to know journalists and engage with them, not to ask them for coverage.
Always be transparent about identifying yourself and your campaign goals.
Now that your initial planning is done, it is time to act. Reach out to your advocates, your spokespeople, the media, etc., and let them know your campaign is in full motion.
Stay in regular touch with your engaged, diverse community members to keep them informed and engaged. During all stages, but especially this one, make sure you track the movement of the issue at hand so you know how to instruct your supporters. You may need them to do educational outreach at local gatherings to build popular support in the community. At other times, a social media action may be best to help bolster recruitment. They may need to write letters to their legislators because a vote in the statehouse is just around the corner. (The costs of planning and conducting this last type of activity will require lobbying funds.)
As for media, this is the phase where you want to follow through on the relationships you established in phase 2. By this time, you have made connections over the phone, social media, or email with reporters and local bloggers. Keep in regular touch with reporters to keep them informed, and give them ideas for covering your campaign.
If you are planning media events like press conferences, this is the time to execute. Get your spokespeople ready to lead events. For more details on media training, take a look at the Media Training Tips section of Build a Campaign, and make sure they reflect the diversity of the audience you’re trying to reach. Set up opportunities for new advocates to sign up to join the cause. Let media know when events are happening, and give them special incentives to cover the story, like a behind-the-scenes press pass that grants them an interview with your spokesperson and exclusive photo opportunities.
Your existing database of supporters is perfectly positioned to become engaged grassroots activists.
By joining your email list, these individuals have already indicated they want to learn more about who you are and the issues important to you. The next step is converting their interest into a deeper level of commitment to your mission—and to helping kids across America—by getting your supporters to complete an action, such as signing a petition, communicating directly with policymakers and other decision makers, or attending events. Remember to develop action alerts in the relevant languages spoken in the community.
As you begin a conversation with your supporters through email, keep these goals in mind:
Educate them through issue updates or updated web content. Communications like this allow you to:
Provide advocates with information, and cultivate their interest in an issue.
Identify the message areas that resonate best with subsets of the audience, allowing you to better tailor outreach.
Keep individuals engaged and updated during periods where critical action is not required, making it easier to activate them when the appropriate time comes.
Engage them in efforts to deepen their activism through surveys, “share your story” opportunities, or social media engagement. These interactions give people actions to take that help you:
Learn more about what type of participation people want to have.
Train activists how to be good stewards of issue messages.
Expand your reach by amplifying your message through individuals’ social networks.
Show activists the importance of their participation, so they are ready to respond in times where urgent action may be needed.
Activate them with new and varied calls-to-action based on the way their unique voices can make a difference. Your advocates can reach the public through:
Participation in public dialogue on key issues by commenting on news articles, blog posts, or polls.
Recruitment of new individuals to join the cause.
Attendance at public meetings, town halls, or hearings in support of your position.
You can also activate your supporters by asking them to contact decision makers via email, phone, postal mail, or in person to contribute their opinions. If your request reflects a view on specific legislation, asking advocates to contact their legislators will be lobbying.
Email action alerts also allow you to communicate with supporters personally, measure their interest through open rates and track their support through clicks on the links in your email. Because email communications have the capacity to be uniquely micro-targeted to recipients, sending alerts to your audience can be one of the most powerful ways to inspire action in support of your campaign.
There are many different ways to engage your volunteers over email—action alerts can educate, motivate, and activate.
Keep advocates interested by offering updates and new and varied ways for them to participate.
Surveys or requests for feedback can make your email program even stronger.
Working with local media is a key way to raise awareness about your campaign, priorities, and goals. Media coverage can help you educate communities, create conversation, and recruit new advocates. But before you can do any of these things, you must first thoughtfully develop and carefully plan how you want to present the issue to reporters. Building relationships with media and pursuing media advocacy well in advance of hosting a media event will help to ensure your message frame is understood and you are well positioned by reporters.
Consider bringing in local spokespeople, such as a community member who can share a personal experience about efforts to ensure their family is well-fed and receives the proper nutrition to stay healthy. You could also consider bringing in a school principal who envisions better academic performance in the classrooms because of access to foods that fuel the brain or a local farmer who would benefit from the sale of produce through the incentive program. You may also engage a local doctor or grocery store owner who can speak about the real impact these programs can have on improving the community’s overall health.
Consider reaching out to respected experts who understand the beneficial impacts of healthy school meals for all.
Start by thinking about what you want to accomplish and whom you want to reach. Do you have news to release, such as a report or study? If not, what is your media hook? Does the nightly news highlight your campaign issue? What about the trending coverage in your local paper? Would you be better served by engaging with community bloggers? Once you decide what your media goals are, you can start identifying opportunities that match these priorities and begin your outreach plan.
One way to engage members of the media is by inviting them to an event. A well-run media event—one with compelling speakers, stories, clear facts, and easily explained goals—will give reporters the tools they need to amplify your story in newspapers, on-air, and online.
Find locations with audiences interested in supporting underserved communities and cultivating healthy nutrition in the community. This can include neighborhood, school and faith-based functions. Make sure whatever location you choose is accessible by being ADA compliant as well as reachable by accessible public transportation.
To make your message more impactful, choose a location for your event that will reinforce the importance of your campaign. Hold your event at:
A public location like a school or community center
A local conference or town hall meeting
Make sure whatever location you choose is accessible by being ADA compliant as well as reachable by accessible public transportation.
As you structure your event, consider speakers who can talk persuasively and credibly about the importance of your issue and campaign goals. This can include representatives from your organization, but do not be afraid to think beyond the obvious. A diverse mix of speakers will provide your media attendees with a range of perspectives. Be sure to include spokespersons who are fluent in languages appropriate for your community and media outlets.
The following tips cover some of the basics of event hosting. However, the list below is not comprehensive—every event is different, and you will need to adapt your planning to each event’s unique requirements. Regardless of the event, always make sure the event is accessible by following ADA compliance for accessible meetings, spaces, and venues.
Establish a point of contact. Your event point of contact should manage all logistics and be easily accessible. This person could be a paid staff member or a trusted volunteer. Whoever you choose, make sure they have existing experience with event coordination and execution.
Send invitations in order to make sure key influencers are in the room. Even if they are not speakers, their presence can lend an air of credibility to your efforts. Make sure to issue personal invitations to these influencers, and follow up with them if necessary to secure their confirmation.
If someone on your staff has an existing relationship with these influencers, ask that person to try calling them on the phone or sending a personal email. People are more likely to respond to messages from names they recognize.
Create briefing books. Prior to the event, you will want to share briefing packets with media and key influencers who will attend. Consider sharing your organization’s policy position statement on your campaign, the fact sheets from this toolkit, individuals or organizations that are able to give more information about the topic, and relevant news articles, reports, or studies about your issue. The fact sheet can be customized to include information specific to your community, state, and campaign. Make sure these briefing books are available in accessible formats such as large print/ Braille or electronically for screen readers.
Research recent media stories—newspaper articles, TV segments, radio shows, etc.—to determine which media figures or outlets might be already engaged in your issue or most likely to be interested in hearing from you. Be sure to include ethnic media. Include the media most important to the decision makers you want to reach with information about your campaign. Based on this research, you can create your media list to reach out to in order to secure coverage of the event.
Once you have established your media list, you, your volunteers, and your staff can immediately begin pitching to these contacts and outlets. Consider pitching both general stories to editorial boards as well as specific storylines to reporters, depending on what makes sense. As the editorial board makes significant decisions on media placement, meeting with them in advance of major stories can ensure your story is not only included but also is elevated for greater reach. This work should start at least one month prior to the event. Consider developing a plan for follow-up pitching after your event in order to re-engage these contacts and ensure they have the necessary information afterward to write their stories.
Distribute a media advisory to all of your selected media outlets, and pitch print and radio two weeks out from the event. Make sure to follow up with reporters to confirm coverage and/or attendance.
Distribute a press release in the days leading up to the event, and include an embargo to ensure media adhere to your event date for releasing any new data.
If you are planning a TV spot, follow up with the producer two days prior to the event and the morning of the event. Also, reach out to unconfirmed print reporters two to three days prior to and the morning of the event.
Depending upon media interest, coordinate media availability on-site before or after the event to facilitate media questions and interviews. This could include setting up interviews with advocates, exchanging contact information between relevant individuals and reporters, or assigning a member of your staff to specifically welcome and assist the reporters in attendance throughout the event. If any of your advocates happen to be individuals with a disability be sure your news media is adequately prepared to have an informed conversation with them using appropriate person first or identity-first language. The focus should always be the topic at hand and not an inspirational story of a person with a disability.
Prepare an op-ed to submit to a target newspaper about the event and the news you are releasing. Take a look at the sample op-ed provided in this toolkit for ideas on how to shape yours, but make sure to include information that is relevant to your community. Aim to have this submitted so that it runs on the day of your event or in the days leading up to the event. You could also consider writing a recap op-ed to run after the event, but be sure to include next steps and calls-to-action for community members so that the readers know that your campaign isn’t over yet.
Monitor for and report on any mentions of the event by targeted reporters and outlets, both leading up to the event and after. You and your coalition partners can amplify any online mentions by sharing posts and links on your social media pages.
If you have local bloggers in your town or city, consider inviting them to the event, especially if they write about the issue your campaign is working to resolve.
As with any other media, research and develop an outreach plan and engage bloggers accordingly. Make sure your outreach is personal and calls out direct reasons why that specific blogger should attend or cover your issue.
Track confirmations/declines, and shape your follow up outreach accordingly.
Monitor for and report on any mentions of the event by targeted bloggers, both leading up to the event and after.
On the day of your media event, set up a table where people can sign up to learn more about the issue. Because they are already attending the event, it is logical to assume they may want to join the campaign and stay involved down the line.
Make sure all the information is at an accessible location, meaning lowered tables and in an accessible format. This may require Braille or large print materials.
Make this effort simple but effective by asking for minimal information such as name, email address, and mailing address. That way you know how to easily get in touch and can use their home address as a way of segmenting your communication to them based on topical issues happening in their school district or neighborhood.
Consider using the sign-up opportunity for a dual purpose. For example, at the end of the event, attendees may be motivated to make some sort of commitment that supports the issue in their community. Combine the sign-up with a pledge where they can share the specific way they will help the cause.
This will also help you keep track of the types of people in your database and the specific ways you can engage them based on their stated interest in the issue.
Make sure you provide multiple means to sign up as some may have trouble reading off a device and others may have difficulty writing. Always offer assistance in filling out any forms but wait for them to accept before providing assistance.
Transcribe the sign-up forms and upload your new advocates to your organization’s database. Send them a follow-up email welcoming them to your email list, thanking them for their attendance, and asking how they want to be involved in the future.
Leverage the event by posting the speeches, photographs, and videos to all relevant websites and social media platforms as appropriate to extend the event’s purpose beyond just a moment in time.
Follow up with local influencers and potential advocates as appropriate to gauge their interest in further involvement.
If there are members of the media, including bloggers, who could not attend the event, provide them with information and an event synopsis with photos so they can cover the event retroactively.
Start working on this event early. Between identifying speakers, inviting journalists, and coordinating a run of show, a well-executed media event can take weeks to plan.
In order to make sure you get the right people in the room, research journalists, and their beats before inviting them to your event.
Location and speakers are important to the event’s success. Accessibility is also key.
Once your event is over, follow up by making photos, speeches, and videos available online.
Even in today’s digital era, person-to-person contact remains one of the most effective means of relationship building. Below is an overview of how to train volunteers for phone outreach, as well as an explanation of two different types: phone banks and phone patch-through programs.
Operating a phone bank connects your organization’s volunteers with potential new advocates—people you hope will want to learn more about your issues, get involved with your campaign, and take action to help you achieve your goals. In order to host a successful phone bank, make sure you address the steps below.
Recruit and Train Volunteers
Enlist your team. Find people who would be willing to make calls on a regular or semi-regular basis. Current staff members at your organization or existing volunteers are the best resources.
Identify your manager. Designate someone from your team to manage the call center. Train them to lead the volunteers and ensure program success.
Train your callers. Brief volunteers on the issues, key talking points for the call, information to collect while on the phone, and how to exercise cultural sensitivity whenever appropriate. Conduct a training session where they can learn the campaign’s messaging and practice making calls to familiarize themselves with the process. They should also be trained on telephone relay services for those who are deaf.
Identify any unique language needs. Does your community include non-native English speakers? If yes, be sure to recruit bilingual volunteers or enlist the help of volunteer translators.
Find a Location and Supplies
Decide where people will make the calls. Before moving forward in this process, you must determine if you want callers to work from a centralized location or not. People can make calls from their homes, but without supervision, they might not stick to the script and could damage potential or existing relationships. Your offices could be a good location for local, targeted calls.
Make sure your office or location is ADA compliant and accessible by inclusive public transportation so that you don’t limit the number of your potential volunteers or staff members.
Equip yourself. Make sure your call center has enough lines and telephones for volunteers. Consider printing out talking points and information gathering sheets.
Set time limits and provide refreshments. Establish how long you want the call center to be open. If it is for a long period, make sure you provide food and drinks to volunteers.
Create a Call List
Develop your list. A call list is essential to any successful phone bank, but like all communication, it must be targeted. You should select individuals based on a known or potential interest in your issue including folks from the following groups: school principals, members of coalition partner organizations, health professionals, school leaders, local health departments, community organization members, etc. A number of resources are available to help discover target audiences, including U.S. Census data. As you develop your list, be sure to have callers who can communicate in the relevant languages spoken in the community.
Start with existing advocates at your organization. You already have their information, and it will make sense to them when they hear from you because they have expressed a previous passion for related issues. If possible, include in this level of outreach a mention of a previous action or event they participated in to help kick start the conversation.
Consider buying lists. It is also possible to buy lists with phone numbers and other advocate information. Prices vary based on the level of targeting and number of people in a list, but InfoUSA (www.infousa.com), Caldwell List Company (www.caldwell-list.com), and Dataman Group (www.datamangroup.com) can be good resources if you wish to purchase a list.
Develop a Script
Prepare a script and some one-pagers to be sure volunteers have the materials they need for effective and informative conversations. As you develop your script, you may want to try out the script on someone not familiar with the issue to ensure your audience understands it in its intended way. Make sure you rate your script on accessibility with a 6th-grade reading level or lower. Make sure your script includes the following information:
Introduction: Provide a brief introduction of who you are, the organization you represent, and a one to two sentence explanation of why you are calling, and then ask if the person on the other end of the line has time to talk about the issue.
Outline of the Issue: If the caller has the time, explain the issue, why it is important, and what your campaign is doing to help create change. This is the point where targeting is most important. Be sure you know the person you’re talking to, and tailor the conversation to them.
Request for Assistance: Following the explanation of the issue, ask the advocates for another point of contact, e.g., their email or mailing address. If you already have this information, confirm that you have the correct addresses, and follow up by asking if they’re interested in getting more involved in your campaign. Having this information will allow you to follow up later and provide further details about the issue and volunteer opportunities.
Closing: If someone declines to hear about the issue, ask if there would be a better time to call back. Lastly, whether advocates want to speak or not, always thank them for their time.
Below is a framework for a script. You may need more than one script depending on your intended goal for the call.
Hi [ADVOCATE NAME]. My name is [YOUR NAME], and I’m calling on behalf of [YOUR ORGANIZATION].
We’re working to [CAMPAIGN GOALS] in [ADVOCATE CITY]. Do you have a few minutes to talk about how this initiative will help you and your family?
Great! [Insert persuasive information about your campaign here, including a statistic or two to prove your point. Consider tying in something specific about the geographic location to make the topic more relevant.]
The Ask: If you join us, we will keep you up-to-date on this issue, progress being made in your area and nationally, as well as ways you can be more involved. Will you join us in this mission?
IF YES: Wonderful. Let me get your [EMAIL, MAILING ADDRESS, ETC.] so we can keep you updated.
IF NO: Well, thanks for your time, and if you want to learn more about the program you can visit [WEBSITE]. Have a great [DAY, EVENING].
Is there a more convenient time I can call you back? (If yes, make a note of when to call back. If no, then skip to…). Thanks for your time, and if you want to learn more about the program you can visit [WEBSITE]. Have a great [DAY, EVENING].
IF ANSWERING MACHINE
Hi [ADVOCATE NAME]. My name is [YOUR NAME], and I’m calling on behalf of [YOUR ORGANIZATION].
We’re working to [CAMPAIGN GOALS] in [ADVOCATE CITY].
The Ask: Please call us at [PHONE NUMBER], or visit our website at [WEBSITE], to learn more and join our cause.
Thank you, and have a great day!
You will want to make sure you track the data garnered from these phone calls—who you are calling, how many people you reach, how many volunteers sign up, who needs to be called back, etc.
Set standards and guidelines for recording data, and be sure to train volunteers on the proper way to record information.
Consider creating a template in Excel for volunteers to record the data. Determine what you want to know about each person. You should at least have a first name, last name, phone number (home or mobile), email address, preferred language, as well as whether they picked up or you left a message and whether they wanted to talk or not. If possible, try to record their name and mailing address and any other helpful pieces of the conversation to shape future communications with this potential advocate.
Maintain the Relationship
Phone calls are the beginning of a relationship, not the end. In order to keep working with these advocates, you must follow up with them, either with another call or via email.
A phone patch, as opposed to a phone bank, connects advocates with their elected officials. In order to host a phone-patching program, you will work with a third-party organization that calls advocates, explains the issue, and asks if the advocates would like to be connected with his or her representative to voice support for a cause or issue. This is a supplemental method to the phone bank program and should target existing advocates, not new ones. If you ask advocates to contact a legislator to support or oppose specific legislation, your phone patch calls will be considered grassroots lobbying. Make sure you budget lobbying funds to cover these costs. You can use non-lobbying funds for phone patches by avoiding references to any pending bills or specific proposals that would require legislation, but that may dilute the calls’ impact.
Select a Vendor
Find a company that will call individuals on your behalf. Some companies that can assist in the program implementation include:
Strategic Consulting Group
Create a Call List
As with phone banks, you will need to create a list of contacts to provide to the vendor. The vendor will use this list during the outreach process.
Develop Scripts for Messages
When individuals answer their phones, they will hear a prerecorded message and will be connected to a representative by pressing a designated number. A script that highlights the importance of the initiative should be written to serve as this recording. There should also be an option for non-English speakers to press a number to hear the message in their language.
Write scripts for:
Calls that are answered
Leaving a message
Note: If the script urges people to tell their legislators to support specific legislation, the calls would be lobbying and would need to be paid for with restricted funds. Patch through calls work the best for this kind of effort, rather than for more generic issue-support efforts, so consider this when developing the budget for your campaign activations.
Record the Results
Typically, a phone patch operator will provide a daily report with the results of the program. Collect that data, and keep it for your records to help you strengthen future outreach efforts.
Whether you’re phone banking or phone patching, there are some tips to keep in mind so your process runs smoothly.
Avoid using computer or auto dialing systems, as some states prohibit these and federal rules restrict auto-dialed calls to cell phones. Instead, have people dial numbers by hand. Hand-dialed phone banks also have a higher completion rate (50% compared to 15% with automated dialing systems, according to The Voices of America).
Hybrid systems also exist. These systems allow you to download to the phone so that you just hit “dial.” Volunteers can record the answers to the survey on the phone, which can then be downloaded to a computer. It also allows you to record a voicemail, so the volunteer can push a button that automatically plays your recorded message after the beep without having to stay on the line. However, these systems may not be used to call cell phone numbers unless the recipient has given your organization consent to call their cell phone.
Try to make your calls between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends, as these are the hours you will most likely find people at home.
Make sure volunteers know how to react in different situations (e.g., leaving a message on a machine or speaking with a hostile individual). Speaking to someone with a speech impediment or disability such as a hearing impairment.
Be sure the efforts of the campaign aren’t limited by do-not-call lists.
Typically, these apply only to telemarketing sales calls. At the federal level, the do-not-call provisions do not cover calls from political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors, or companies with which a consumer has an existing business relationship.
Most states follow the standard set by the federal government, but state laws can vary. Check state government websites to ensure compliance with these laws.
There are two different types of telephone programs: phone banking and phone patching. Phone banking is for recruiting volunteers, while phone patching is for connecting advocates with elected officials.
To ensure a well-organized phone bank, brainstorm all potential questions and responses volunteers may receive and build a script to equip your volunteers with the best way to react to a few common scenarios.
If your community includes non-English speakers, make sure you recruit phone volunteers who can speak those languages, including telephone relay systems for those who are deaf.
Consider the best time to make these calls to reach the highest number of people.
Check your state’s laws on phone outreach to ensure you are complying with all do-not-call provisions.
Public commentary has long been one of the most powerful ways to broadly communicate ideas. By having an opinion editorial, commonly called an op-ed, published, you’ll be able to convey your campaign’s essential messages to legislators, journalists and the community through the voice of one of your volunteers or advocates who is passionate about your cause.
In the past few years, competition from expanded news and information sources like blogs and social media has made publication easier, but competition for attention tougher. This means that you’ll have to offer your best thinking and most influential voices to maximize your chances of having a newspaper print your op-ed—and have people care who you are and what you have to say.
Op-eds can be persuasive and emotional in tone. For example: if your goal is to convince local and state decision makers to make sure all students have access to healthy school meals, you could ask a community member to write an emotional op-ed about how nutritious, no-cost meals could affect their life and health.
Choose your signer carefully. To ensure the best chance of earning placement on a news platform or gaining people’s attention, enlist a high-profile influencer to sign and submit your op-ed. Ideally, this influencer should be well known within your community and the audience of the publication, such as a doctor, researcher, teacher, active parent, school principal or superintendent, or politician. Keep in mind that if you write an op-ed that mentions legislation and ask a legislator to sign it, all costs related to researching, writing, and placing the op-ed are lobbying expenses.
Ask yourself: “Who cares?” Make sure your piece will clearly resonate with or be meaningful to the public. Start by writing from the reader’s point of view.
Keep things tight. News outlets have limited space, so keep your opinion editorial to 500 words or so. Some outlets have even shorter limits, while a few will accept up to 700+ words. Check your paper’s requirements before submitting.
Speak conversationally. Avoid jargon, fancy words, and slang. Your op-ed must be understandable to the general public, including people that may have no knowledge of the issue or your campaign. It is generally accepted for accessibility that information should be written at a 6th-grade reading level or lower.
Get to the point. Make your key points early and often, and back them up with facts and examples.
Offer a short, snappy headline. A good headline gives readers a preview of what your op-ed has to say. (Keep in mind that some news outlets will write their own headlines, regardless of what you submit.)
Be prepared to be edited. Op-ed submissions are subject to revisions, editing, and fact-checking. Editors usually do NOT need your approval to make revisions or edits to accommodate space limitations, provided they do not change the context of your position. Sources for factual statements should be listed at the bottom of your op-ed to expedite review and placement processes.
Include your contact information. Be sure to include your name, title, organization (as needed), email, and phone number in case the editors want to contact you.
Choose your signer carefully. Having a local leader’s signature on your op-ed can help increase its chance of being published.
Be brief, and check your target publication’s word limit for op-eds. Usually, 500 words is a good target.
A good op-ed makes both rational and emotional appeals.
Speaking to the media can seem a bit daunting, but by telling a compelling story you can gain tremendous traction with the public and decision makers. Unlike any other tactic for your campaign, an engagement with key media could allow you to access a wide audience in a personal manner.
Begin by determining what media outlets are important to move your campaign forward and develop your list of outlets and journalists. Remember to include media who have natural connections with the campaign. They’ll be more likely to respond to your pitch, and you’ll be more likely to reach the audiences who care about your issue and may be willing to get more involved.
Once you know which outlets you want to contact, secure spokespeople who will resonate with the readers, viewers, or listeners of the outlets. Work with your media team to develop a newsworthy pitch. Make sure that your spokespeople are prepared to speak to the media and will have time available for interviews before you begin reaching out to the media.
With the appropriate preparation and practice, your spokesperson will become comfortable with your messaging and will be able to speak articulately and passionately about the issue. The guidelines below will help you prepare your advocate for media success.
Develop a small group of spokespeople whose perspectives are especially important to the cause and who the media might be interested in interviewing. Strive for diversity that represents your community as well as varying perspectives on the topic and be sure to include spokespeople who are fluent in other languages as it makes sense for your community.
Advocates directly impacted by the issue can provide a personal appeal that no one else can.
Decision makers who are supportive of healthy school meals for all students in their communities and local economy will add an air of credibility.
Researchers who can share data on your issue for a specific city or state will add quantifiable evidence to your stories.
Finally, top-level representatives from your organization or partner groups are always important faces to add to your campaign. They can speak specifically about your efforts in your state.
Reach out to these types of spokespeople, ask if they would be interested in speaking on behalf of your organization and begin preparing them for the task. Be sure to identify those who would do well on television or on-air through radio or talk shows, and those who would be more comfortable with print articles.
When you are pitching to the media, you are able to prepare your spokesperson before you ever reach out to the media. Sometimes a reporter may hear about your campaign and contact you for an interview. Either way, it is important to begin preparing your spokespeople as soon as possible. The more your speakers prepare, the more comfortable they will be, the better their delivery will be, and the more effectively your message will resonate with the right audience(s). However, before you compose your media training materials, make sure you answer the following questions:
Who is your audience? Before developing your messages, it is important to consider the audience you will be reaching through the publication conducting the interview.
Who typically reads the outlet that this reporter represents?
What are the additional topics this outlet typically covers?
What are the demographics of the readership or viewership?
What should you say? Speakers will need to know your talking points, but these core messages are just a starting point. Make your content more relevant by considering the following questions:
What are the two or three most important points you want to make during the interview? Write them down, and check to see if you were able to include them each time you practice.
Are there facts you want to highlight during the interview? What is the central theme you want to discuss—the core statement you return to repeatedly?
What would success look like? Provide numbers, statistics, and milestones for your state to help frame the problem as well as the resolution.
Can you make your interview more tangible? Consider adding comments about specific experiences or testimonials.
Are you telling a good story? Facts can easily be forgotten, but stories remain in people’s memories.
Are there other groups or individuals taking part in the interview? What are their positions likely to be, and will you have to comment on them?
What matters most? Spend some time thinking about how your speakers can best portray themselves and the issue.
How should the interview begin and end? The most important parts of an interview are the introduction and conclusion because they are what the audience is most likely to remember.
Are there more ways to restate the main goal of the campaign? People need to hear things at least three times to remember them, so make sure to keep bringing the messaging back to your core points.
Is this still relevant? Reread talking points the day before the interview to be sure the proof points are still relevant. Read local news of the day and reference anything that makes sense.
How can others get involved? Make sure the audience knows that there is a call-to-action for them to get involved with your campaign, and be sure to share easy information on how to do so, either by visiting a website or contacting the spokesperson directly.
What questions do you expect? What questions do you least want to be asked? Spend some time anticipating questions and developing direct responses or ways to turn the conversation back to your key message.
No matter how familiar spokespeople are with your talking points, it is important to have them rehearse multiple times before the interview. Ask your spokesperson to rehearse your talking points in the following ways, and work alongside them as they do:
Read the text alone silently. Read the content with a critical eye. Do all proof points support the overall story? Is the central theme clear?
Read aloud alone. Spokespeople might be surprised to hear themselves speaking aloud, especially if it is their first time participating in an interview. Watch your speakers talk, and make note of places where they take natural pauses or get tripped up on words.
Stand and read in front of a mirror (if the interview is on television). When spokespeople read the content aloud standing, they will begin to get a feel for their natural body movement and non-verbal cues that will help bring the story to life.
Stand and read in front of peers. Gather your colleagues to listen to the spokespeople deliver their talking points. This can help increase speakers’ confidence and provides a safe place for them to receive feedback. At this point, they should be able to deliver their content without reading directly from papers.
Record their delivery, and learn from it. One of the best ways to rehearse is to make a video recording of your spokespeople presenting—smartphones are an excellent tool for this purpose. This allows them to see what the interviewer sees and will make speakers aware of any distracting movements or phrases they may unknowingly use.
Rehearse in a comparable setting to where the interview will be held. You may not be able to take your spokespeople to the actual interview location, but try to create a setting that feels similar. Spokespeople can practice their movement in this similar space, developing a sense of how to move and talk effectively when they are in the interview room.
As your spokespeople arrive for the interview, they should be friendly and engaging, greeting reporters, editors, and producers confidently.
Own the space. When you are on-site in the room, remind your speakers of the movements they practiced. If it is the right setting, encourage them to move around or use gestures so he or she doesn’t appear stiff or uncomfortable.
Engage the interviewer and the audience. Remind spokespeople to maintain eye contact with the reporter as often as possible. They are the window to the viewers who are watching or listening. If there is an audience present, make sure spokespeople speak directly to them.
Relax and enjoy. By this point, your spokespeople will have mastered their text and be comfortable with their delivery, so remind them to relax and enjoy their time on stage or in front of a reporter.
Say thank you. Thank the reporter at the end and suggest meeting with them later for a follow-up interview.
Before you arrive. If your spokesperson is someone with a disability make sure ahead of time that the location is prepared to accommodate them. Stages should be made accessible and equal thought should be given as to how they can best deliver the information. This may require the removal of an ill-placed podium or mic or require the interview to be moved altogether. Have confidence in making any accommodation requests so that your speaker can deliver the information without any unnecessary distractions.
Identify a core group of diverse spokespeople who can consistently speak with the media about your campaign.
Develop smart talking points and customize them to be relevant for each interview.
Practice makes perfect—ask your spokespeople to rehearse their speeches or talking points to get comfortable with their comments before they speak with journalists.
Timely: It’s an issue happening now, being talked about now, or being covered now in the media.
Relevant: The pitch applies to the state/region the outlet covers and to its audience.
Surprising: The pitch is an unusual way to tell a story that’s been previously told or contains an unusual voice and is an opportunity to tell the story in a surprising way.
Provocative: The pitch makes the reporter/editor think, analyze, etc. and they believe it will do the same for their audience.
Controversial: There is another side to the story, and it makes for good debate.
In addition to WHAT we pitch, we need to pay attention to HOW we pitch our stories to the media. Some of the elements we should be paying attention to and working to hone our skills and become stronger are these:
Quickly capture the attention of the reporter/editor.
Deliver a clear and concise message.
Make the link between the story you are pitching and its relevance for the local community and/or issues already in the news.
Be brief and make each word count—plan, practice, and deliver a short and intentional message.
Individual meetings can go a long way toward making a difference with your legislator—but sometimes there is strength in numbers. If you are looking to combine a media event and a legislator meeting, you may consider hosting a day at the state capitol where advocates hold a rally and then attend scheduled meetings with decision makers. Before heading to the Capitol, you should be prepared to cite the availability of healthy, no-cost school meals in each legislator’s jurisdiction.
Here are some things to think about as you plan your own day at the capitol.
Planning a day at the capitol takes a lot of time and work. It is a large investment for one short day. Therefore, it is important to make sure you schedule the event for when it will be most effective.
There are certain points in the rhythm of the legislative calendar when a day at the capitol could be particularly helpful. Policymakers will be more focused on your issue if a vote is upcoming or if a specific committee is viewing relevant legislation. By talking to them at this point in time, you can grab their attention and remind them why this issue matters to you. Remember, if you talk about specific legislation with a legislator, it is considered lobbying.
If you choose to reflect a view on specific legislation in this type of meeting, make sure you have ample, unrestricted dollars to cover the costs of both planning and hosting such an event. These activities will be a lobbying expense since it involves communicating directly with legislators about specific legislation.
The legislative calendar lends itself to a variety of opportunities for meetings. Consider a time when things are slower at the capitol, not at the start of a new legislative session. That way you may be able to secure more quality face time with your legislator. If there is an opportunity to connect your visit to an awareness day (for example, International School Meals Day), this could give an additional emphasis to your visit.
If you focus your message more generally on your topic separate from a specific legislation focus, it may be possible to use non-lobbying funds for this activity. When using non-lobbying funds, you must stick to educating legislators on general discussions regarding your issue. You can also secure a legislator’s general backing for your issue, obtain support for non-legislative matters or request their support for a particular grant application to help your campaign. Alternatively, if you want to use your visit to influence legislators to introduce or support specific legislation or appropriations, you must use lobbying dollars to pay for these activities.
When you schedule these types of events, remember that legislators and their staff want to hear from constituents with direct experience with the issues at hand. Remember to include a variety of voices in your attendees, including parents, professionals, youth, and local community leaders who can speak credibly about the topic and its impact on creating healthier futures for our children.
If you have the resources, make plans to help your advocates get to the capitol, especially those with financial or transportation limitations. Consider offering gas money or assistance in paying for their plane ticket. An investment like this, to get the right people on the front end, can help ensure a successful visit. If the capitol is within reasonable driving distance, identify who can drive and who would like or need to carpool with others.
If overnight travel is necessary, settle on a hotel and send out the booking information well in advance of the rally so people can get the cheapest rates and stay together for easy coordination (this may be another opportunity to help individuals out with the costs, if you are able). Always ask the hotel if it has group discount rates.
Make sure your accommodations are pleasant and have sufficient space for group training meetings or debriefings. Consider gathering advocates the night before your event, once everyone has arrived, to align on the following day’s agenda and key talking points. Lodging arrangements should also be fairly close to the capitol so it does not take long to get there from the hotel. We recommend visiting the hotel in advance to make sure it is suitable for your advocates. Remember, you want people coming back next year, and comfort—even modest comfort—is important! Lack of accessibility for someone who needs it will be a deal-breaker. Be sure to prepare ahead of time for accommodations requested. This could include but is not limited to acquiring accessible hotel rooms, accessible travel to and from the hotel to the meeting space, locating accessible entrances ahead of time for ease of travel, and more.
Ask advocates if they have any barriers to participating, such as transportation accessibility or child care, and brainstorm ways to help overcome these issues to ensure full participation.
Keep in mind that if the event is a lobbying effort, all related expenses incurred by your organization (including transportation and lodging) must be paid using lobbying funds.
Plan a clear itinerary that you can distribute to advocates in advance of your event as well as when they arrive; you can even place it in their hotel rooms with a gift bag to make them feel welcome. An itinerary will communicate that this trip is important, purposeful, and set expectations for what they will get out of participating. On the itinerary, note the key message for advocates, make the goal of the event clear, and emphasize what the common ask and next steps will be for follow up. Be sure to schedule time at the end of the day to receive immediate feedback and debrief on key conversations. Be sure the itinerary is appropriate and feasible for anyone with a disability that may require breaks for restroom use, medication, or extended travel time from one location to the next.
Beyond meeting with their decision makers, this is an excellent time for advocates to connect. Advocates are often more committed and inspired to support the issue at hand when they feel as though they are a part of a community. Although your advocates are connecting online, they may have few opportunities to connect in person so they can learn from each other and share experiences. Make sure to schedule intentional times for this to happen in the form of meetings as well as fun outings.
Make sure your advocates are armed with tools that will help drive the point further home to decision makers. That could be the decision maker fact sheet in this toolkit or something more, like a petition from advocates in their community. If your visit is a lobbying visit, materials you create specifically for the visit are considered lobbying materials and should be supported with unrestricted resources. But if you create materials in advance and distribute them broadly to the public, you may be able to use non-lobbying funds for your leave-behinds. Plan your campaign materials several weeks or months in advance, think strategically, and consult a lawyer who is familiar with these issues.
After the day at the capitol is finished, make sure you follow up with advocates about the meetings, reporting any successful interactions or resulting legislative movement. The important thing here is to let advocates know their efforts were worth it so they will continue to be active for your cause.
Look at the legislative calendar, and pick a day that makes sense for your visit.
Think carefully about who should be in the room, and make sure to bring constituents with direct experience about the issues at hand.
Do what you can to make the process of traveling to the capitol as easy as possible for your advocates.
Have materials on hand for advocates to make the purpose of the event clear, and ensure that everyone is comfortable talking about your issue.
Decision makers want to know what’s important to their constituents. Having face-to-face meetings with your advocates and their legislators is an effective way to humanize your topic, make it relevant for the decision makers, and encourage these leaders to commit to this issue. Whenever possible, schedule an in-person meeting with key decision makers and supporters from their districts. Identify the right advocates for each target based on interest and the ability to share a credible point of view. Make it easy for advocates to make the most of their visits by preparing briefing packets with talking points, key tips, and a one-pager to leave behind that overviews the issue and contains your contact information. See more tips below.
Whether you meet with representatives in local home offices or take a special trip to the state capitol, you can have a strong impact when you can look legislators in the eye and answer their questions about your campaign, share personal stories, and discuss proposed solutions. But don’t underestimate the value of meeting with the staff of decision makers. Staff are the lifeblood of a policy maker’s office and are key to keeping your issue in front of the decision maker.
Below are some helpful tips to make the most of your meetings.
Making an appointment is easy—simply call your legislators and talk to the office’s scheduler. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Be flexible with the date and time. Legislators have busy schedules, and meetings usually last 15 to 45 minutes.
You may end up meeting with a staffer rather than a legislator, which is fine. Many legislators rely heavily on staff to keep them informed and make decisions about issues.
Choose one to two issues to discuss so you can talk about them comprehensively in a short amount of time.
Feel free to bring a colleague or an advocate with you who can also offer their insight on the issues. Be cognizant that bringing an advocate simply to demonstrate diversity can come across as a token appearance. Be sure to have a strong role for each person engaged in the meeting.
Nervous about how the conversation will go or what to say? Bring these essentials to the meeting to help it run smoothly:
A pen or pencil to take notes during your meeting.
A business card to leave with your representative.
Cameras, so you can share photos showcasing how this issue directly impacts children in your community or take a picture with your legislator while you are visiting his or her office.
A one-pager with key statistics about the issue and more information about your campaign. Include a list of key influencers who are also involved and a way that the policymaker can be more involved to help serve as a champion for your cause.
A clear “ask” for the meeting to move the conversation forward—for instance, a site visit, newspaper column or op-ed signature, or asking the legislator to urge the governor or mayor to take an administrative action. All of these may be structured to use non-lobbying funds.
Remember: your visit won’t be considered lobbying if you keep the conversation focused on your campaign and the general policy issue you are working to resolve without discussing legislative solutions. But you may discuss administrative actions without the communication being treated as a lobbying cost. If you have a specific request surrounding a piece of legislation, that would require separate lobbying funds to support the visit itself or the supplemental materials created for the meeting.
Dress professionally when visiting your representative.
Introduce yourself and talk about your position on the issues you have prepared to discuss.
Share personal stories and examples to illustrate how the issues affect you and your community. Facts and statistics are easy to forget, but personal stories remain in people’s memories.
Listen to your legislator’s response and be prepared to answer questions. If you cannot answer his or her questions, jot a note down and get back to him or her.
Even if you do not see eye to eye, always be respectful and polite.
Research your representative’s stance and voting history on the issues you plan to discuss, as well as opposing viewpoints, to help you frame your talking points.
After taking time out of his or her very busy schedule, your member will definitely appreciate a brief thank-you card or email.
A follow-up note is also a great opportunity to remind them of the stories you shared, your stance on the issues you discussed, and how their actions as an elected official could help impact your community.
Based on the in-person response to your request or “ask,” determine what appropriate steps to take in following up with your legislator and whether you need to repeat the ask or share additional information to bring them on board.
You may end up meeting with a member of your legislator’s staff, which is fine. Decision makers rely heavily on feedback from their staffers, especially on policy issues. Treat everyone in the office with the same level of respect and be sure to share information with anyone you encounter.
Come prepared for your meeting with fact sheets, business cards, cameras, and—most importantly—a clear “ask” for the meeting.
Do share personal stories and experiences as it pertains to your issue.
Remember to thank your legislator or staff members, using this follow-up opportunity to reiterate your “ask.”
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