Site visits are a high-leverage way to build support for early learning and foster a relationship with policy makers, business leaders, funders, partners and more. Whether you bring them to a center-based preschool program, family childcare site, home visit, play and learn group, or some other early learning program, site visits provide an opportunity to show the great work going on in your community.
While visits are a useful tool for any of the groups mentioned above, these tips will focus primarily on policy makers (though many of them can be generalized to other visitors).
Site Visit Pre-Work
- If you don’t know all of your district’s policy makers, you can find them using the Washington State Legislature website.
- Check out the legislative session calendar to find out when your elected officials will be in Olympia for the legislative session. The best time to invite elected officials for a site visit is when they are in their home districts (before or after the legislative session).
- Call the office at least 4-6 weeks before the potential visit. Contact information for each policymaker is listed online. If the contact information for their district office is listed, call that number. Otherwise call the Olympia office. Tell them that you are a constituent and would like to invite them to tour an early learning site in their district. Follow up with an email.
How to Request a Visit
- Be flexible. Have a few possible dates in mind for the visit so that you can accommodate the busy schedule of the policy maker.
- Follow up. Ask for an email address so that you can follow up with a written invitation. In this email, include a 1-2 page profile or brochure about your organization to give them some context.
- Aim high. Plan to get the policy maker themselves to attend. If they are unavailable at all of the times proposed, remember that hosting their legislative assistant is also well worth your time.
- Clarify. Ask how much time the policy maker will have so that you can plan your visit according to their schedule
Preparing for the Visit
Think about the different voices you’d like to have represented on the site visit. Be sure to identify someone from the site who has a strong understanding of site operations, history, and funding. In addition, you’ll want at least one person who has knowledge of early learning policy, as the policy maker may ask what you think of current policies or pending legislation.
You could also consider including one or more of the following:
- A parent who can speak to the positive impact the program has had on their life and their child’s development
- A staff person from the program who can speak to the site’s approach to working with children and families and the importance of professional development
- A partner organization that can speak to the program’s community ties and web of support for children and families (this could be a school district representative)
- A local official or leader (business leader, city councilor, school board member, superintendent) who can speak to the importance of early learning programs in supporting the local community and economy
Call the office one week before the visit to confirm the date and time.
Consider alerting the media. The legislative office may be interested in doing their own media outreach (which means you don’t have to do it!); talk with the policy maker’s staff person about whether you’d like media for the event, and if so, your strategy for getting them there.
Prepare a packet of materials for the policy maker and their staff people. This packet should include information on your program, such as a one pager or brochure, facts about early learning in your region/Washington State, and your business card. In addition, think about whether you’d like to give them something generated by the children in your program – a picture or poster, a thank you note for their support, etc.
Day of the Visit
- Assign a picture taker so you can document the visit.
- Look to build the relationship. Site visits are a great opportunity to showcase your good work, talk about needs and opportunities in your community, and find out what the policy maker really cares about. Sometimes the best advocacy/relationship building tactic is listening. Ask them why they care about early learning, and throughout the visit be thinking about how to position yourself as a resource to the policy maker moving forward.
- Don’t make things up! If the policy maker asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, be honest – don’t guess the answer. Ask for their contact info and say you’ll be happy to find out the answer and get back to them. Having an excuse to contact them post-visit is great way to continue building the relationship.
- Enjoy yourself! Remember that you are the expert. The policy maker and their stuff are coming to learn from you.