Advocacy basics

Learn how policy is made and how you can help shape it

Policy is generally crafted by elected officials and their staff. They appropriate money for afterschool programs and decide how those funds can be used. The job of these policy makers is to represent you – their constituents – so your opinion on issues is extremely important to them. That’s why it is essential to tell your elected officials about issues that matter to you.  

Nonprofit rules of engagement

It can be confusing to know how you can involve yourself in an election while representing a nonprofit organization.  There are a few simple ground rules that you need to follow:

Equal outreach – all contact with and materials sent to campaigns should be the same for every candidate.  For example, if a Democrat, Republican and Independent are all running for mayor, you must send information to all three candidates.  If a candidate contacts you for more information, document that contact and if other candidates reach out to you, you must offer them the same information.

Documentation – keep a calendar of each time you reach out to a candidate and every time a candidate contacts you.  This will help you keep track of your equal outreach efforts.

Nonprofit election and lobbying guidelines – Lobbying can be confusing if you work for a nonprofit organization.  The following guides outline what employees of nonprofit organizations can and cannot do:

Election Do's and Don’ts for Non Profit Organizations

General Lobbying Rules for Non Profit Organizations

  • Frequently asked questions

    • Can an organization state its position on public policy issues that candidates for public office are divided on?

      • An organization may take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for public office as long as the message does not in any way favor or oppose a candidate.

    • Can an organization post information on its website (or link to other websites) about a candidate for public office?

      • If an organization posts something on its website that favors or opposes a candidate for public office, it is prohibited political activity.  If an organization establishes a link to another website, it is responsible for the consequences of establishing and maintaining that link even if the organization does not have control over the content on the linked site.  Be aware that linked content may change.



Important Considerations for Getting in touch with policy makers


Your homework.  Before making contact, learn key background information. Visit a senator's or representative's website. Be sure to know if they are in the Afterschool Caucus. Also, states and many local municipalities have websites where you can find information on elected officials.

Be specific. When you call, email or meet in persontell the official why you are there and what you want. Your interaction might only last a few minutes. Be sure to mention it if you are a constituent.

Establish yourself an expert information source. Elected officials have limited time and staff and many competing issues to consider. That's why advocacy is so important. You can fill their information gap and become their "expert."

Bring materials to leave behind.  Leave your elected official with a profile of your program and any other materials that describe your program's benefits for kids and families in your community.

Follow up after a meeting. Send a personal thank you note to the official and staff for their time. If you promised information, be sure to get back in touch quickly.



Think you have to know everything. It's okay to admit you don't know something.

Burn bridges.  Work to find some sort of consensus and always leave on positive terms.

Forget.  Elected officials work for you! You should be courteous but not intimidated.



Making your voices heard at key moments is critical! Take a look at how a bill becomes a law to see where the key decision points fall in the federal policy making process.

For background on how state budgets are created, go to our State Policy Center.

For more ideas on how to take action, and key advocacy dates for this year, visit our Take Action Center.

The Candidate’s Guide to Afterschool provides a primer on afterschool issues for candidates.

Gather signatures on the downloadable Afterschool for All Community Petition.