NCPA wants to provide tools for members to play an active and effective role in our aggressive grassroots lobbying effort. Why? Because your business needs your personal action, your state association needs your leadership and our profession needs your hands-on involvement—now more than ever.
Write a letter to the editor today advocating for the value of community pharmacy. Voice your opinion to your community, a draft letter is available here. Please personalize and submit to your local newspaper.
All Politics is Local
One of the most famous Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, used this phrase to emphasize the importance of local or "grassroots" opinion. It makes sense. Every federal and state legislator has to stand for election, locally. When you step forward as a concerned local business spokesperson, both local and national politicians will listen and, in most cases, appreciate the health care expertise you offer.
You Are the KEY
Congratulations and thank you for becoming a grassroots activist on behalf of community pharmacy. You are an active link with Members of Congress and the NCPA Government Affairs staff in Washington. You are also the key link between your state legislators and your state association. You are a local leader that legislators are inclined to listen to, even when they may be too busy for others. No one can replace your authentic grassroots voice. You will help put a local face on national and state issues, and that is unique.
What Will I Have to Do?
You will be communicating by email, phone and in person with elected lawmakers and their staff members. You'll learn what you can do, and how to do it with impact and effect. Legislators, get a national perspective from the NCPA Government Affairs team in Washington, and a regional perspective from your state associations, will hear how best to address the local issues and concerns of community pharmacy from YOU. Because "all politics is local," a lot is riding on your participation at the grassroots level.
Grassroots Lobbying, It's Easy To Get Involved
The primary goal of any lobbyist is to advance their issues through the legislative process. For the grassroots lobbyist, in particular, this means providing local insight and personal expertise on community pharmacy's issues. To succeed, you must be able to navigate through the political process.
- Nothing is more important than access to legislators and their key staff.
- Constituents enjoy a special access to elected officials that others do not.
- NCPA members use their constituent access and local expertise to work effectively with NCPA's Government Affairs team.
- A "team" approach represents our best chance of success.
The Tools of Effective Communication
- Always make sure your communication is simple, concise and to the point.
- Always answer more questions than you raise.
- Always address the "Five W's" (who? what? where? when? and why?)
- Always work to build consensus.
- Personal visits always establish the strongest, most lasting bond.
Tool #1: Emails
Simple as it is, a well-crafted email is the most commonly used and effective means of communicating with elected officials. (Mailed letters have lost their effectiveness because security measures require extensive screening before it is forwarded to Congress.) Congressional offices are set up to receive, log and respond to constituents' emails. Well-written communications from constituents—especially business owners—are noticed; and they positively impact the votes of elected officials. It's Easy! Use the Legislative Action Center to quickly and easily contact your elected officials.
Here's How to Do It
Anyone can write an email. However, constructing an effective message to a lawmaker takes some skill. Your email should follow a plan. It should not ramble and should usually be limited to one page. It should be to the point. Any broad statements need convincing evidence to support them. It should be polite, it should compellingly make our case and it should always offer further information or consultation.
Here are the major ingredients for an effective email communication:
WHO: Your professional title, the name of your business and its location. You should mention the number of people employed, the large number of patients you serve and the active role that your pharmacy and its employees take in the community.
WHY: Right up front, clearly indicate the issue you are writing about and your position on the issue. This is what the legislator's staff looks for when they log-in the email. It's best to limit each communication to one issue or one subject.
WHAT: Be clear about the issue and what you want them to do. Maybe it's as simple as supporting or opposing a specific bill. Be specific in your request; i.e., use the bill number or its title if available.
WHERE: Discuss where the legislation or issue affects you, your business, your patients or your local community. Mention the specific impact on your pharmacy's ability to provide quality care for your patients.
WHEN: Look to NCPA or your state association for information about when the issue is expected to be acted upon, and let the legislator know. If time is critical, say so!
Stick To the Point
- Be straightforward and clear in your wording. Avoid using pharmacy lingo.
- (Do not assume legislators know what a "PBM" or AMP stands for.)
- Keep it short (one page). Remember everyone is pressed for time.
- Make your primary point up front (i.e., "for" or "against").
- Avoid long, convoluted arguments that keep the reader guessing what your conclusion will be.
- Use facts to back up your opinions. (Attach supporting materials.)
- Use your credentials to substantiate your views. Share your expertise without boasting.
- Be tactful and polite—remember that you will usually be asking for something from the reader.
NCPA's Washington office can give you email addresses for all Members of Congress and state legislators. Just visit our Legislative Action Center at legislative-action-network, enter your zip code and your congressional and state legislators will appear.
Tool #2: Visits With Elected Officials
As in your ordinary business and social life, a personal visit has more immediate impact and more lasting impression than an email. Every member of Congress has at least one local office in the district they represent, and most have several.
Congressional district offices are staffed by people whose job it is to communicate with constituents. There are no barriers to stopping by these local offices and establishing relationships with the staff. The welcome mat is out! Don't feel put off if you meet with a staff member. They are essential advisors to legislators.
When the Member is Home, You're Invited
Most Representatives and Senators frequently travel back to their home districts. Why? To meet with constituents, consult with their district staff and keep in touch with local issues and voters.
It's easy for you! Just call a district office to set up an appointment to meet with your elected representative when they are in town. Getting an appointment is easier if you have already established a relationship with the district staff. If you are visiting Washington, D.C., call ahead and set up an appointment to visit your legislators in their congressional offices. They appreciate you sharing your views with them.
Members can click here for more information on planning visits with elected officials.
Tool #3: Telephone Calls
A phone call is not as personal as a visit, but it has more impact than an email. The rules are the same. Stick to the "Five W's," make your points clearly and succinctly and then say goodbye. Nearly always, you'll be speaking to a staff member, so don't act surprised or show annoyance if a staffer takes your call. It's wise to give staff members the same respect you would give to the elected official. Remember to ask the legislator to "do something" on the issue—be specific; e.g. co-sponsor the bill, vote "no" or vote "yes" on the bill. Ask for follow up from the staff person by having them call you back after they discuss the issue with the legislator.
Legislators are seldom in their offices to take phone calls. They have committee meetings, votes on the floor, meetings with constituent groups and many other demands on their time. Expect to speak with a staff member and to have your email read by a staffer. That is their job, and your message will get through.
With that in mind, here are a few ground rules for phone calls:
- Use the phone when time is critical (e.g., an impending vote).
- Use the phone when you want to convey urgency.
- Leave a simple message of your support or opposition to the bill, using its House or Senate number and the name it is known by.
- Always mention your name, title and pharmacy affiliation. Ask the staff person to call you back and let you know what action the legislator took.
Tool # 4: Fax
Grassroots lobbying, in particular, often takes advantage of the immediacy of faxes on important issues.
- Your fax should look like a letter. It should be on your pharmacy letterhead.
- Stick to the "Five W's" (see above).
- Use simple sentences.
- Make your main point and provide supporting facts. Then ask the legislator to take a specific action.
Like phone calls, use this method of communication when time is critical and/or you want to convey a sense of urgency for your position.
Tool #5: Pharmacy Tour
Inviting your member of Congress or your state legislator to make a personal tour of your pharmacy makes a strong lasting impression and speaks volumes about our profession and our issues. It also establishes your position as a subject matter "expert" and a resource for the legislator. So, consider using this powerful tool as soon as possible.
Members can click here for more information.
Tool #6: Working With NCPA's Government Affairs Team
The NCPA Government Affairs team is one of the most valuable tools you have to get involved in the political process. They know how to get a legislator's attention and cooperation. They know the ins and outs of Capitol Hill activities, committees, legislative processes and staff contacts. On state legislative issues, call on your state association for assistance. Use these tools to help you:
- Write emails and attach fact sheets
- Plan personal meetings and draft agendas
- Compose and organize phone calls, faxes and email activities
- Plan pharmacy tours
Remember, any grassroots program requires a TEAM effort! All of us, speaking together, will present a strong voice for community pharmacy.