Letters to the Editor
Sending a Letter to the Editor is a great way to disseminate your message to a wide audience. In many cases, letters are your best shot at getting published, if only because newspapers print more letters than editorials each day. Letters to the Editor are widely read and well worth submitting. Here are some things to keep in mind when writing a Letter to the Editor:
Letters to the Editor pages differ from newspaper to newspaper. You will need to take a look at your own newspaper to get a feel for what they do and do not publish.
If the paper writes reports on anything related to afterschool or education, use that article as a starting point for your own editorial.
You can write Letters to the Editor just to raise the issue of afterschool in your community.
Send a copy of your letter to as many publications as you can in your area; you never know who will pick it up, and you can never have too much publicity. Encourage and work with high-profile members of your community to place Letters to the Editor or Op-Eds in the local and regional news outlets.
For more tips on writing Letters to the Editor and to see a sample, click here.
Editorial Board Meetings
Most newspaper editorials are written by editorial writers, not reporters. These writers are part of the newspaper's "editorial board," usually made up of the editorial page editor, editorial writers with responsibility for specific issue areas, and other ranking members of the newspaper staff. It is important to reach out to editorial boards to put ideas about afterschool-related articles on their radar. Here are some ideas:
1. Put together a group of three or four local afterschool advocates, including a representative of an afterschool program and prominent members of the community.
2. Write a brief letter or email to the editorial page editor of your local newspaper requesting a meeting, laying out what you'd like to discuss and why it is important. Follow up a day or two afterward with a telephone call.
3. If the editorial board agrees to meet, have a preparatory meeting with your group before the meeting at the newspaper. Practice answering questions and decide who will take the lead in answering certain questions.
4. At the meeting, each member of your group should be prepared to offer a three-minute summary of important points. Be sure each group member addresses a different aspect of the benefits of afterschool programs.
5. Determine which editorial writer covers the issue. You may want to get back in touch with them in the future.
6. Leave informational materials with the board when you leave, and send a thank-you note after the meeting.
Get candidates on the record! Provide an opportunity for the candidates to express their views. Asking the candidates questions about afterschool in public settings will help make it part of the political conversation.
Candidate surveys are another tool to consider. If a candidate goes on record as being supportive, hold them accountable after the election. You can use candidates’ responses to a survey to share an objective view of the candidates with afterschool supporters. Distribute candidate surveys to all of the candidates, asking them to respond to various issues that are pertinent to the afterschool movement in your community. Tailor questions to particular issues in your community, but try to keep the survey short. Publish candidates' survey responses to educate the field and the public about their positions. Sample survey questions can be found here.
Candidate forums and town hall meetings present an excellent opportunity to raise awareness among candidates and in the community about the importance of afterschool programs. If there isn’t already a candidate event happening in your community, you can organize one!
Give yourself ample time to plan, making sure that you have adequate staffing and/or partnerships to pull together all of the pieces. Give the candidates plenty of notice as to the date and location of the forum. It is very important to invite all major candidates in the district where the forum or meeting is held and to do everything that you can to generate a large audience. If this means that afterschool will be one of a few issues discussed, that’s OK. Collaborate with other organizations as much as possible.
There are many ways that you can organize a forum or town hall meeting. Click here for planning tips.
See Making the case for afterschool for talking points and more easy strategies for advocating for afterschool.
Outreach to the field of afterschool supporters
A crucial aspect of your work is mobilizing afterschool supporters—they are one of your greatest assets. They should be encouraged to vote and to ask candidates where they stand on afterschool. Start with your own list of supporters and contacts. Convene and brief members of the afterschool community and the broader children’s community, including local elected officials, practitioners, parents and PTAs. As you organize meetings and gauge interest from potential partner organizations, it may be useful to think about the size of their databases and strength of their existing grassroots networks.
As soon as you start talking publicly about the campaign and creating new resources for the field, you are going to need a website to post information. The website also serves as a means of gathering additional contacts for your database. Your website should be live on the day of your campaign launch event and should provide background information about the campaign as well as a place for visitors to show their support.
Facebook and Twitter
In today’s world of social networking, having a Facebook presence is crucial. Facebook should be used mostly for publicity, awareness and outreach. Update your status with recent developments or compelling information; the more people who “like” your status, the more publicity that status—and your campaign—will get. Event pages should be accurate and well-maintained. Invite all of your Facebook fans and encourage them to invite all of their friends.
Twitter is another useful site to take advantage of when you run a campaign. Tweet short blurbs as often as you want, updating your followers about any progress you make. Be sure to follow other organizations, politicians, public figures, and people that affect your campaign.
Get Out The Vote
In addition to hosting events and using the Internet to rally support around afterschool, it is important to make a push to turn out voters through targeted materials. These materials should also be easily accessible on your website, and should specify the date of the election. Whenever possible, your materials should advocate an issue, not a particular candidate.
While the election may be over, your campaign work is not. Hopefully some aspects of your work will continue for some time into the new term. In order to make the most of all your time and hard work leading up to Election Day, you need to continue your efforts with post-election follow-up to candidates, newly elected officials, media and the public.
Follow up with elected officials
Once Election Day has passed, be sure to review public pronouncements, candidate surveys and other materials from the winning and losing campaigns. Understand the winning candidate’s position and hold them to what they said during their campaign. Having made public statements on the issue, the candidates will most likely be responsive.
Follow up with the field
There are a number of things you can do to follow up with the field of afterschool supporters. Ideally, the end of the campaign is just the beginning of your outreach to the database you’ve built.
Be sure to send acknowledgements to the field, thanking them for their effort and hard work.
Organize a post-election meeting with your partners and precinct captains, and share best practices: what worked, what didn’t.
Encourage the field of supporters to “keep the pressure on."
Give the field sample letters so they can follow up with the winning candidate.