[Updated Repost] Advocacy 101: 4 Ways Community Based Organizations Can Get Involved in Advocacy and Engage with Policymakers


For many community based organizations, involvement in public policy advocacy can be a daunting endeavor, meant only for policy wonks and experts who know all the physical and political in’s and out’s of state and local legislatures – not true! Especially for social issue-focused organizations, which tend to be part of larger systems that may require more resources, support, and changes to those systems in order to work toward solving or improving a particular problem and/or serve a particular population. This calls for active civic engagement and advocacy to tell representatives why they should care about and support your cause(s)! But where to start? Here are 4 ways your organization can get involved in policy advocacy or improve your current advocacy strategy:

Gov. Charlie Baker signing the FY15 Massachusetts state budget. Credit: Mike Deehan / WGBH News

1.   Reach Out.

Find out who your state legislators are and reach out to them! Elected officials are public servants, meant to represent and answer to their constituents – that’s you! So it’s your responsibility to reach out and tell your legislators what is important to you, your fellow constituents, and why it should be important to your legislators.
Check out this past blog post that provides a detailed overview of the Massachusetts State Budget process, and how you can impact budget and other policy decisions.

Massachusetts State Senate Chamber. Credit: https://malegislature.gov/People

2.  Be Specific and Relevant.

When advocating for a particular social issue and/or policy agenda, its most effective when you can point to a piece of related legislation, amendment, budget line item, etc. that’s being debated and explain your/your organization’s position on that item, and specifically how and when that legislator can be supportive. Whether its voting a particular way, co-signing an amendment or advocating their support on the Senate or House Floor – be specific about what you’re asking for and how they can help.

To stay up to date on floor debates, votes and other legislative activities related to your issue(s), it’s a good idea to regularly check out the legislative calendars to know when and who you should be reaching out to advocate for your issue(s).

You can also click here to download a helpful flow-chart of Massachusetts’ annual state budget process.

Another helpful tool is the Massachusetts Jobs & Workforce Budget browserwhich provides a detailed look at current and past funding levels for specific workforce-related line items in the state budget.

massbudget jobs and workforce

Current Workforce Action Alert: The FY18 Budget process is wrapping up but you can still learn more and make your voice heard!

Please contact your legislators to let them know you support youth jobs, career and technical education and sector based job training!

To find out the specific line items supported by SkillWorks and our policy advocacy partners at the Workforce Solutions Group (WSG), here’s the WSG Budget chart.

Click here to contact your legislators!

Learn more in WSG’s most recent Budget and News Alert.

Photocredit: Workforce Solutions Group

3.  Know Your Stuff.

It’s critical to back up your advocacy with facts and data proving to legislators why your issue is so important and in need of their support. Providing this information also helps legislators to better understand your issue and how it might affect their constituents. If you’re advocating for funding, it’s even better if you can provide data that shows the return on investment in your issue.

Equally as important is knowing enough about your issue and its needs to make recommendations for legislation, policy/system changes, resource allocation, funding increases, etc. and explaining why and how those recommendations will make a positive impact on your issue and the people it affects.

Great workforce development examples include the Job Training Alliance (JTA)’s social return on investment report on the success of community based job training programs and the Alliance for Vocational Technical Education (AVTE)’s CVTE report and policy recommendations.

jta roi

Current Workforce Advocacy Alert: SkillWorks and our partners at the WSG have been working hard this year advocating for exciting workforce legislation that have major systems change implications for the Commonwealth! Learn more below, and don’t forget to contact your legislators to show your support!

An Act to Diversify Use of the Workforce Training Fund to Support the WCTF (SB1006/HB3160): Filed by the late Senator Ken Donnelly and Representative Joseph Wagner, this bill would allow up to 5% of the Workforce Training Fund to be used for pipeline training, and would match those employer based funds with state dollars to enable up to $2.2 M per year to be used for training to upskill people for vacant jobs, administered through the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund (WCTF). The WCTF currently does not have a dedicated revenue stream, so this would be a major step forward in securing sustainable public funding for pipeline training.

An Act Relative to Ensuring Quality Education and Training Programs (SB 674): The purpose of this bill is to help close Massachusetts’ skills gap by providing workforce and education data more effectively to students, educators, employers, program managers, and policymakers to help inform decisions on program development, resource allocation, career pathways, and recruiting and hiring skilled talent.

What the bill does:

  • Codifies the existing practice of public higher education institutions to annually submit student level information to the Department of Higher Education;
  • Requires the Department of Revenue and the Division of Unemployment Assistance to share wage information with the Department of Higher Education to determine whether graduates are finding employment and how much they are earning;
  • Requires the Department of Higher Education to create a website offering students a place to find information on their education and training options based on graduation rates, job placement rates, wage information and loan debt, as well as information about occupations and programs;
  • Creates a task force that will focus on improving and coordinating the state’s data infrastructure across and between workforce, education and social service agencies and ensuring more effective use of data.

Who This Bill Benefits

  • Students and Parents – This bill will provide prospective students and their families with the information they need to make decisions about their postsecondary options – before they invest time and money.
  • Policymakers – This bill will provide policymakers with information about institutions and programs, which they can use to improve education, workforce, and economic development policy in the state.
  • Employers – This bill will help ensure that employers can access information about which programs and institutions are giving students the skills they need to be successful in the workforce.
  • Educators and Program Managers – This bill will give educators and programs the information they need to improve the quality of their program offerings and to tailor programs for struggling demographics.

How does this bill help Massachusetts?

  • Positions Massachusetts more competitively by creating an efficient means to analyze and critically use big data that will help close the skills gap.
  • Supports state’s effort to showcase our greatest natural resource; our talent.
  • Creates greater parity for Massachusetts with 23 other states that have already implemented a workforce and education scorecard, and 18 states that have a mechanism to provide program level data to improve program and institutional offerings. for example:
    • Washington state uses wage records to evaluate the outcomes of nearly 20 workforce development programs. When data showed strong employment and earnings outcomes for the state’s apprenticeship programs, the legislature enacted laws to increase the state’s number of apprentices.
    • Texas law requires the Texas Workforce Commission to maintain an automated workforce development evaluation system that has data on nine of the state’s workforce programs. The Texas legislature uses that information to make decisions about the state’s budget.
    • Instructors at California’s community college system evaluate and adjust their career and technical education (CTE) programs using an online tool called LaunchBoard, which shows information on student progress through CTE courses and into the labor market.

If you would like more information or to submit testimony in favor of either of these bills, please contact the WSG’s Kathie Mainzer at 617-263-3344.


4.  Change it up.

Don’t just stick to calling and/or emailing legislators to advocate for your issue(s) or only reaching out when its budget season or when legislators are debating a relevant piece of legislation. Engage with legislators regularly, using a variety different means and methods.

Here’s a few ideas your organization can try:

  • Invite legislators to your programs and build an ongoing relationship with them
  • Promote their visit or your trip to their office on social media
  • Thank them for visiting and meeting with you
  • Share information about major announcements and events like graduations on social media and to local newspapers and ‘patch’ sites
  • Give awards to employers and legislators that use best practices and support your priorities
  • Follow policy makers and local reporters on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to cultivate relationships, promote your work, and thank them for their support.

Most legislators WANT to hear from their constituents and want to be helpful and support good things happening in their districts. Especially when it comes to helping people get jobs, which is a TOP priority for most policy makers and legislators. So NOW is your chance to get out there, make your and your organization’s voice heard, and ADVOCATE for what matters to you!

And don’t forget to use these tactics to help support and advocate for Massachusetts’ workforce development policy campaign: Skills to SucceedClick here to learn more about the campaign and our recommendations to drastically increase career growth and opportunity in Massachusetts.

Click here ⇓⇓ to download the Skills to Succeed Infographic!


Other Advocacy Resources:

Related posts:

MA Jobs & Workforce Summit Recap: This Year, We Mean Business!

Funding for Workforce Training in Massachusetts – and a Promising Opportunity

Advocacy 101: 4 Ways Community Based Organizations Can Get Involved in Advocacy and Engage with Policymakers

Skills to Succeed: A New Campaign to Increase Massachusetts’ Workforce Outcomes and Resources

Alliance for Vocational Technical Education Legislative Briefing & Advocacy Day!

Author: SkillWorks

SkillWorks is a nationally recognized workforce funder collaborative, launched by the Boston Foundation in 2003 to improve workforce development in Boston and across Massachusetts. SkillWorks brings together philanthropy, government, community organizations and employers to address the twin goals of: 1) Helping low-skill, low-income individuals attain family-supporting jobs; and 2) Helping employers find and retain skilled employees.

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