Mental Health America has prepared resources to help its members be the best advocates. Please see below for resources target at specific issues you might be dealing with. Refer to MHA's Advocacy 101 report for a comprehensive overview of how to advocate.
In October 2010, Mental Health America hosted a webinar series for mental health advocates on fundraising. The first webinar gives an overview of fundraising and the second webinar focuses on federal funding available to affiliates and other mental health advocates. The presenter for both webinars was Amy Forsyth-Stephens of Forsyth-Stephens Consulting, LLC (and former Executive Director of the MHA of the New River Valley, VA). MHA thanks SAMHSA for its support of this webinar series.
Fundraising 101 - October 20, 2010
Learn the basics of fundraising from an expert in the field.
An overview of the federal funding process for mental health advocates.
Communicating With Your Legislators
Members of Congress listen to their constituents and care about constituent opinions. But to be effective, you have to follow some simple guidelines so your voice will be heard.
Here are some basic tips and suggestions:
Writing letters or emails
- Make sure your letter or email includes your name and address.
- When writing a member of Congress, use "Dear Senator" for senators. For House members, use Dear Representative or Dear Congressman or Congresswoman.
- Your purpose for writing should be stated in the first paragraph of the letter. If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it accordingly, e.g., House bill: H. R. ____, Senate bill: S.____.
- If you are sending a letter, fax or e-mail already prepared for you, take a minute to put the message into your own words.
Here's a sample:
Dear [ ],
Last September millions of Americans celebrated Senate passage of the Mental Health Parity Act, S. 558. The House of Representatives' passage of a similar bill now lends real urgency to Senate and House leaders moving quickly to ensure enactment of a strong mental health parity law this year.
My daughter has a mental health condition, but our insurance will not provide sufficient coverage for help.
Please lend your voice to the call for enacting a strong parity bill this year.
[City, State ZIP]
The most effective way of communicating with a legislator is to personally meet with them or their staff. Unless you are planning a trip to Washington, DC, this means visiting their local office. Don't expect the legislator to be in their local office if Congress is in session on the date of your visit. Even if Congress is not in session, you may find that a staff member has been assigned to meet with you. Here are some suggestions on setting up and conducting a meeting:
- Make an appointment. Schedule the visit in advance; don't just show up. Contact the local office and ask to speak with the scheduler. Explain the visit. They may ask for a written request, which should state the purpose of the visit and be on letterhead, if you are representing an organization.
- Prepare for the visit. If you are part of a group, prepare an agenda and the key points you want to make during your visit.
- Bring material. When visiting either a legislator or a staff member, bring with written material that you can leave that outlines your purpose and the points you are making in person.
- Be punctual and positive. Be on time, and thank the staff person or legislator for his or her time. Even if you disagree on most issues, compliment the member for a vote or action you appreciated. Building a rapport and lines of communication are important to creating a long-term relationship.
- Listen and gather information. Ask for the legislator's view on an issue. Be patient and polite, but firm. Don't expect to get a response immediately.
- Follow up. Tell the staff person or legislator you will get back to him or her if you cannot provide information on the spot. Take notes on additional material or issues they raise.
- Express your thanks. At the end of a meeting, thank the staff person or legislator for his or her time. Send a thank you letter soon after your visit, repeating your request for support.
Calls to a congressional office are particularly useful and effective when a bill is coming up for a vote or you want to urge your representative or senator to join in sponsoring a piece of legislation. Instead of calling your legislators' Washington office consider calling a local district office instead. It's less expensive than a long distance call to Washington and your call will be just as effective. Here's what to expect and do during a call.
- Introduction. If this is your first call to a congressional office, you'll talk with a staff member. The first thing you need to do is state your and name and the fact that you are a constituent of the legislator.
- Then briefly state the nature of your call.
- Be prepared to give your address. Expect that the staff member will ask for your name and address so they can respond by mail to you.
Here's a sample script.
"Hello, my name is Joan Jones and I am constituent of (name of legislator). I am calling today to urge them to support H.R. 6331 so we end Medicare's discriminatory 50 percent copay on mental health services. I live at 123 Main Street, Middletown, Ohio. I look forward to hearing back from your office. Thank you for your time."