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Advocacy Tips

Case Study: Michigan Land Trusts & the Farm Bill

Want to learn more about how Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy was able to build such a strong, lasting relationship with their Senator?

Stab and Chown small

Senator Stabenow tours a farm with GrandTraverse Regional Land Conservancy Executive Director Glen Chown (left) and Acme Township Supervisor Wayne Kladder

"Grand Traverse really benefitted from farm bill funding for easements in the past, and we knew Senator Stabenow could play a big role in deciding whether that funding would continue.  So we really made it a priority to show her and her staff the work we had done.  We worked hard to get our farmers and our business community to talk to her and her staff about the importance of conservation to our economy.  And we made it personal – and fun.

We hosted events with the Senator on conserved pieces of land, and every one of those events was a press opportunity for them, and a press opportunity for us.  Being on the ground made the issue real for the Senator, and for her staff, the same way we on the board and staff feel it. When push came to shove on rewriting the Farm Bill, this all paid off.  The Senator and her staff knew what we were talking about.  They cared.  And they had come to view us as the experts.

We’re still working on that relationship – we just, with help from the Alliance, were able to place op-ed pieces in several Michigan newspapers praising the Senator publicly for her help on the farm bill and what it will do for conservation in our state."

-GTRLC Board Member Beth Karczewski


Get to Know Your Members of Congress!

With growing pressure to cut spending and reduce tax benefits, there no better time than the present to (re)introduce yourself to your congressional delegation and their staff members working on tax and conservation issues. Show them how your work supports the public interest so they'll think twice before cutting the programs you rely on. Here are some tools to get started:

Why Lobby?

The government makes saxtondecisions about conservation tax incentives, controls millions of dollars in conservation funding, and has the potential to greatly help - or hurt - your conservation work.

The Land Trust Alliance can tell Congress what the issues are--but only constituents like you can make elected officials care enough to do something about those issues! This section is all about providing the tools you need to build those relationships.

Your Land Trust Can Lobby

The federal government supports lobbying by 501(c)(3) nonprofits. The IRS has very specific and easy-to-follow rules about how much money a 501(c)(3) organization can spend on lobbying, what counts as lobbying (many things don’t), and how to comply with the IRS regulations by reporting such expenditures on your form 990. Read more on these rules, including how your land trust can come under simplified rules by filing form 5768.

Keep in mind you can never endorse or oppose a candidate for elected office and your organization should be careful to avoid any action (especially during an election year) that might give the appearance of endorsing a candidate.  But, you can work on ballot-issues, referendums, and other issue campaigns.

How to Lobby

All politics is local. The fact that what you do is locally popular matters a lot to your elected officials – but it only matters if they know who you are and who supports you.

Are people talking to them about your land trust? Are you? Are they reading about you the local paper? Does your mayor ask them to help you? Does their brother-in-law? Does their staff? Do your elected representatives and their staff get invited to visit the places you have protected? Do they get invited to your annual dinner, or picnic?

The following resources aim to help you build relationships that reveal opportunities you never knew existed—and keep you off the menu for cuts when times are tough.

  • Meet with Congress Over Recess – Members of Congress spend much of the year in their districts. Inviting them to a site visit or another event is one of the best ways to build strong relationships.
  • Advocacy Webinars -- Check out our new suite of upcoming events and archived webinars on advocacy topics.
  • Building Advocacy Partnerships – A Land Trust Alliance article on how to get started building relationships with your legislators.
  • Write to Your Members of Congress – Practical advice for writing to legislators about policy issues in general and the enhanced easement incentive in particular.
  • A Dozen Ways to Say Thank You –  While these ideas and templates specifically reference the enhanced easement incentive, they're great ideas for thanking any public official who lends you a hand!
  • Advocacy Seminar Workbook - The Workbook from our “Advocating for Success” seminar is now available for board, staff and volunteers of Alliance members at The Learning Center. Be sure to download both the action plan (smaller PDF) and workbook (larger PDF).
  • The Nonprofit Lobbying Guide – A comprehensive book from Independent Sector, available from our publications store or as a free download.
  • Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest website – A good source for basic guidance and advanced training in nonprofit advocacy
  • Alliance for Justice website – Excellent advice and publications on nonprofit advocacy – with a particular focus on persuading foundations that it’s alright to fund projects that include lobbying.

More Ways to Get Involved

Grassroots Toolkit

A library of templates for outreach on the enhanced easement incentive—to thank co-sponsors, spread the word to landowners (when it’s extended) and adapt for your use on other issues.

Subscribe to our Land Trust Advocates Alerts

Sign-up now to receive email alerts with breaking news about policy opportunities and other information you need to make a real difference with policymakers!

Photo: Congressman Jim Saxton (R-NJ) receives an award from the New Jersey Conservation Foundation/Photo courtesy of New Jersey Conservation Foundation

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Advocates Alerts

February 12: The House successfully voted 279-137, demonstrating a supermajority (67%) of support, on H.R. 644, a package of charitable incentives including the conservation tax incentive.Now we need your help in the Senate to secure co-sponsors! Sens. Heller and Stabenow have requested land trusts’ assistance in asking senators to cosponsor S. 330, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act. Learn more »

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Congress wrestles with tax breaks for open space

July 29, 2014 | Poughkeepsie Journal | NY

House passes Gerlach conservation tax break bill, now up to Senate

July 18, 2014 | The Mercury News | Pottstown, PA

The Time is Now for Congress to Act on Conservation

July 15, 2014 | Politico | Washington, D.C.

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