Safe Route to School State Appropriations Case Studies
Stories of state- and local-level campaign wins and examples of how communities and organizations can advance their campaigns
Safe Routes to School initiatives and policies bring enormous benefit to children and adults throughout a community. This toolkit lays out key elements and considerations for successful state-level Safe Routes to School campaigns.
Look both ways™…
When we cross the street with children, these words come from our mouths almost automatically. Protecting children—teaching them how to live a long life—is so natural; we barely have to think about it. In the same way, teaching children how to live healthy, active lives should be just as natural. Safety and healthy living should go hand in hand.
That’s not always the case.
Walking or biking to school is one of the best ways for children to practice safety while learning to build physical activity into their everyday lives. In some communities where sidewalks and bike lanes are scarce, we’re missing a key opportunity to help our children lead long, healthy lives. When our kids have safe routes and are able to bike or walk to school, they’re more eager and ready to learn, they are healthier, and our streets are safer. It’s time to ensure that every child has a safe route to school.
Safe Routes to School aims to create safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for students to walk, bike and roll to and from school. As a movement and a program, Safe Routes to School gives students, school staff, parents, and community advocates a chance to champion safe and active travel for youth.
With more than ten years implementing Safe Routes to School in the United States, rigorous evaluation has identified Safe Routes to School as an effective strategy to improve health and safety outcomes for school aged children. Safe Routes to School improves children’s physical activity levels, inceases rates of bicycling and walking to school and decreases injuries. Safe Routes to School initiatives are successful in addressing public health, transportation, environmental, and economic challenges, and are implemented nationally in all types of settings – rural, suburban, and urban.
With tremendous need for Safe Routes to School funding and fierce competition for available federal funds, state-level Safe Routes to School campaigns are more vital than ever to keep kids and communities healthy and safe.
Safe Routes to School initiatives and policies bring enormous benefit to children and adults throughout a community. This toolkit lays out key elements and considerations for successful state-level Safe Routes to School campaigns. Running a successful Safe Routes to School campaign is not an easy task, but by using the toolkit as a guide to strengthen your campaign, a winning campaign is within reach. Threats to youth health from physical inactivity, asthma, and car crashes make state-level Safe Routes to School campaigns more vital than ever. By creating a well-run, strategic campaign, you can secure funding for Safe Routes to School programs and projects that support and prioritize health, safety, and sustainability in all communities for all people.
Every neighborhood should have an environment where kids can play safely outside and take active routes to school, like biking or walking on trails, paths, sidewalks, or bike lanes.
When our kids have safe routes and are able to bike or walk to school, they’re more eager and ready to learn, they are healthier, and our streets are safer.
Building safe routes to school in your community can keep kids healthier. When children and families can walk or bike together to school, they become more active.
• The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends every child has at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and walking or biking to school can help fulfill that goal.
• In California, walking and biking increased anywhere from 20% to 200% among schools that received Safe Routes to School funding for street and sidewalk improvements.
• Leaving cars behind when kids walk or bike to school also reduces traffic and improves the quality of the air we breathe.
However, we must address safety concerns before parents can feel comfortable allowing their children to walk or bike to school. From 2000 to 2006, 30% of traffic-related deaths among children between ages 5 and 15 happened while walking or biking. Safe Routes to School programs keep our kids safer by improving the safety of streets and sidewalks, and by providing instruction that teach our kids important traffic rules.
• Safe Routes to School education programs teach important walking and bike safety skills, starting at a young age. These programs complement efforts to build safer streets and more sidewalks, helping to prevent and reduce injuries that may occur while walking or bicycling.
• A recent study in New York City revealed that census tracts with Safe Routes to School interventions saw a 44% decline in school-aged pedestrian injury during school travel hours while locations without Safe Routes to School interventions stayed the same.
We know that active kids are better learners, so when kids walk or bike to school, they arrive more ready to focus. In fact, students are physically active on a regular basis have higher academic scores. Overall, healthy students have better attendance and behave better in class, and have perform better academically.
Safe Routes to School isn’t just great for kids; everyone benefits.
• Sidewalks and bike lanes increase the overall walkability and safety of our neighborhoods, while promoting active and sustainable communities.
• Simply put, sidewalks and bike lanes make for a convenient, social, and fun way for our entire community to stay physically active.
• Studies have found that health care costs associated with physical inactivity decrease by almost $3 for every $1 invested in safe pathways for people who walk and bike.
For more information on the program benefits, key principles, key players and why obtaining strong levels of dedicated funding, as well as codifying the program, is good for the state as a whole and local communities, check out the ABCs of Safe Routes to School. It’s time to make changes that keep our kids safe and support our children’s ability to learn better, and be healthier. We can do that through Safe Routes to School.
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 improved health 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.
Need Help with Resources? Voices for Healthy Kids is available to help customize our creative resources as needed. If you are a grantee, please submit a TA request. If you are not a funded grantee, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Stories of state- and local-level campaign wins and examples of how communities and organizations can advance their campaigns
Downloadable and shareable designs for your work.
Messaging documents provide everything from simple phrases you can use to sample language you can copy, paste and customize in your campaign.
Informational materials, like core background details and stats, in one page.
Messaging documents provide everything from simple phrases you can use to sample language you can copy, paste and customize in your campaign.
These are the stories of those working to engage, organize, and mobilize communities to help make each day healthier for all children.
This first phase of the campaign is where you lay the groundwork that will ensure your success.
To start, think about these questions:
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 are able to 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 problems facing your community. 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 a lobbying. You can do this outreach through numerous channels:
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:
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 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:
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:
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:
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, a stack of recruitment forms, or a turnkey powerpoint message.
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.
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.
There are many organizations working to help kids grow up at a healthy weight. Some are singularly focused on one topic while others look at broader issues. While some groups may not perfectly align with your goals on 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 sections.
Be sure to include organizations that are minority led or serving in your recruitment efforts. Work to make sure 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:
Although some potential allies will be publicly outspoken about their opinions on your topic, others will take a more subtle approach. Before making a decision 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.
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:
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 health observances taking place throughout the year (e.g. National Physical Fitness and Sports Month in May or National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month in September) where you can spotlight and thank advocates for their efforts to improve the health of your community.
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.
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:
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.
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) and 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. These are thought-starters and not necessarily an exhaustive list of questions:
It is going to take community support to create healthy changes for our kids. 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 increase reach—people are more likely to click posts with images and videos. Below is a quick overview of how you can best put multimedia to use on Facebook and Twitter:
Facebook can be an excellent way to engage your existing advocates and recruit new ones, especially if you already have an established presence. Below are a few tips for spreading the word on Facebook:
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 considered 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
To make your message more impactful, choose a location for your event that will reinforce the importance of your campaign. Hold your event at:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 in order 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.
A sample op-ed is available below and in the Resources section.
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 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 cadre of spokespeople whose perspectives are especially important to the cause and who the media might be interested in interviewing. For all of these, 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.
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 folks who would do well on television or on-air through radio or talk shows, and 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:
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:
As your spokespeople arrive for the interview, they should be friendly and engaging, greeting reporters, editors, and producers confidently.
Early on in your campaign strategy development, you will need to understand the decisionmakers you will be targeting and their interest in and knowledge about Safe Routes to School. Since most Safe Routes to School funding campaigns are legislative in nature, your primary targets will be elected officials. However, often legislators look to the state agency responsible for Safe Routes to School or an appointed state Transportation Commission for guidance about whether a transportation bill is a good idea or not, so you may need to view officials at these agencies as target decisionmakers as well. Understanding the state DOT and state transportation commission’s experience with and opinion of Safe Routes to School will provide insight into whether they may support or oppose your efforts.
Why it matters: Your first target will be a highly supportive legislator, to introduce and sponsor your bill. Work with your bill sponsor to get a sense of which committee it will be assigned to and to gain any insight on key members of those committees and how best to influence them. Although ultimately the entire legislature will vote on your bill, you’ll want to focus your initial outreach and effort on certain key legislators who have control over when and how your bill moves through the state legislature. Research committee leadership for the committees that may have jurisdiction over Safe Routes to School. In most states, this will be a transportation committee, but education and health committees could also review these bills. Research the leadership in each chamber of the state legislature, as their view of a bill influences how rank and file members of their parties perceive and ultimately vote on bills.
Why it matters: Usually referred to as DOT commissioner or secretary, the state’s chief executive for transportation often sets the tone for how walking and bicycling projects are funded and prioritized (or not) in a state.
Why it matters: While not all states have dedicated Safe Routes to School coordinators, many states have staff responsible for leading bicycle and pedestrian projects. Understanding how this person views Safe Routes to School interacting with existing walking and bicycling efforts can provide clues about how to communicate about the goals and values of Safe Routes to School.
Why it matters: State transportation commissions are boards of advisors appointed by the governor to serve fixed-length terms to advise the state DOT, governor, and state legislature on matters related to the state’s transportation system. In some states, these are highly influential bodies and it will be imperative to have their buy-in. The powers and responsibilities of these boards vary by state; you can learn more about them on your state DOT website.
How can you most effectively influence these decisionmakers? What motivates an elected or appointed official or agency staff will affect how you frame your message to secure their support. For example, if a legislator has sponsored public health related bills, you will want to emphasize health benefits of Safe Routes to School in reaching out, whereas if they are more active on education issues, you may want to discuss school attendance and academic performance benefits. In addition to legislative histories, it’s important to consider personal interests and life experiences. Legislators who are recreational bicyclists or whose families have been personally affected by traffic violence may be more supportive of a Safe Routes to School bill. Researching campaign donors, board memberships, and hobbies can help you determine who the best messenger might be to influence this decisionmaker.
By researching decisionmakers’ interests and the stakeholders who have influence over them, you will learn how to motivate and sway them. This information is also essential to inform the types of organizations and individuals you will need to recruit as members of your coalition.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Nervous about how the conversation will go or what to say? Bring these essentials to the meeting to help it run smoothly:
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.
As your campaign takes shape, you will want to employ a range of tactics to build momentum and support for Safe Routes to School funding. Tactics are events and actions you will implement to fulfill your Safe Routes to School campaign strategy; your strategy is your overall plan and tactics are how you will harness collective power to persuade the targets to act in order to meet your plan goals.
Rather than choosing just one way to communicate your message, hosting a variety of campaign events and actions will help you reach a wider audience. Safe Routes to School, walking, and bicycling appeal to people for different reasons. As such, your campaign strategy should involve tactics that are tailored to different audiences, focusing on what will convince them that they should care about making it easy and safe for kids to walk and bike to school and beyond.
One challenge to bear in mind when running a Safe Routes to School funding campaign is the simultaneous need to influence decisionmakers and keep advocates enthusiastic about the effort. Since legislators are the decisionmakers, it’s essential to educate them about the value of Safe Routes to School programs, but your coalition will be much more effective at doing so if grassroots advocates are amplifying that message and contacting their legislators in support of the bill. Campaign events and actions are a fun and effective way to keep momentum alive throughout long legislative campaigns. Actions are an effective way to recruit new grassroots advocates and keep existing ones enthusiastic and motivated to continue working on behalf of the campaign. Some especially helpful tactics for successful Safe Routes to School campaigns utilize youth and elected official engagement and organizing, special events, and various social media approaches.
When planning tactics for Safe Routes to School campaigns these are some questions you may want to address:
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