State VMA tool kit for legislative advocacy

Developed by AVMA Communications Division
June 2011

As an executive for a state veterinary medical association (VMA), an important part of your mandate is to mobilize your association's resources to help pass or defeat legislation that affects the veterinary profession and your members. What steps can you take to help make that effort successful? What type of support can you expect from the AVMA as opposed to those activities that the state VMA is uniquely equipped to carry out? Are there other organizations that could assist you in your efforts?

This tool kit is a compilation of resources designed to provide executive directors of VMAs with a quick, step-by-step guide on how to plan a legislative effort. Media relations are an essential piece of that plan, so we've dedicated an entire area to how you can use the media to support the efforts we've detailed here.

Dealing with the legislature

AVMA's role

  • Legislative tracking. The AVMA legislative and regulatory team tracks bills in your state using pre-determined key words and will alert you when those bills have been introduced, amended, and/or adopted.
  • Analyze bills and regulations. The AVMA looks at each new piece of legislation and regulation identified by our tracking service to determine what, if any, impact it will have on the practice of veterinary medicine. Our state legislative team will gladly analyze and provide an opinion on specific areas of a bill upon request.
  • Drafting legislative language. Upon request, the AVMA will assist a state VMA in drafting language for a new bill or for amending an existing bill or regulation, with input from the VMA on the desired result.
  • Testimony. The AVMA can review VMA testimony prior to submission. At the state VMA's request, the AVMA may submit its own testimony, co-sign testimony or a statement with the state VMA, or in selected cases, send a representative to testify.
  • Information gathering. The AVMA maintains a growing library of policy statements, testimony, legislative alerts and other materials, some of which have been used by state VMAs in earlier legislative efforts. These are posted on the AVMA website:
  • Facilitate coalition building. The AVMA can assist a state VMA in identifying other stakeholders that may have an interest in a particular piece of legislation and help facilitate relationships in order to build a coalition to work for or against a bill.

State VMA's role

  • Analyze bills and regulations. The state VMA needs to have in place a process to decide whether they take a position on a bill, and, if so, assigning a priority. Usually that's done through a legislative committee working with the executive director and lobbyist.
  • Plan of action. If the VMA decides to get involved on an issue, it needs to determine its strategy and develop a plan of action, including how they will handle publicity/media. This may mean mobilizing VMA members to contact their state legislators regarding a certain piece of legislation and/or hiring a lobbyist to directly lobby on behalf of the VMA.
  • Mobilizing. If the plan calls for member contact with legislators, the VMA must mobilize its membership and finalize a message with agreed upon talking points. One way of reaching legislators would be by using Capwiz software, which matches veterinarians with their elected officials, and generates email letters based on a pre-prepared template. Regardless of method, it's essential that messages sent by your membership be consistent.
  • Appoint spokesperson(s). The VMA must speak with one voice or it risks diluting its message and losing credibility with legislators. Consider appointing one or two representatives to handle each issue with legislators and the media. Provide them with training if necessary (you will see this advice again in the media section).
  • Lobbying. Sometimes a state VMA benefits from hiring a professional lobbyist to lobby on their behalf in the state capitol. Ideally, this person or firm has good access to elected officials on both sides of the isle and maintains a reputation for credibility, trust, and honesty. This individual or firm should be expected to provide effective representation while avoiding any conflict of interest that compromises their ability to represent the VMA.
  • Relationship-building. When new legislation is introduced that can impact the practice of veterinary medicine, it is imperative that the VMA have a role in shaping that legislation. Ultimately, the VMA's goal should be to create an environment in which legislators automatically look to the state association for its expertise on veterinary or animal health issues before they begin to craft the actual bill. A long range goal for the legislative program is that decision-makers begin to view the state VMA as the voice on veterinary issues. This may take some time and perseverance, but it can be (and has been) done. That's why it's important that you build ongoing relationships with legislators through veterinarians and the VMA lobbyist well before a crisis hits.
  • Coalition-building. Consider soliciting support from other medical professional associations in the state with similar interests. For example, your state's physicians and dentists may be facing scope of practice threats from lay practitioners, or the specter of new service taxes being imposed.

Dealing with the media

What we can do for your VMA

Unfortunately, the AVMA can't handle media relations on a day-to-day basis for your state VMA, but what we can do is provide you with some advice and a number of tools to assist you in creating your media plan and crafting specific messages. These include:

How can you get started

Develop a spokesperson database. The VMA must speak with one voice or it risks diluting its message and losing credibility with legislators. Consider appointing one or two representatives who can speak as an "official" of your VMA to legislators and the media and provide them with media training. Even the most polished spokespersons train—and train again—in order to be prepared to speak to the media. When choosing your spokespersons, select members who can speak clearly and concisely. You might also want to think about identifying and training some specialists, officers, and practitioners who are called upon only when their area of expertise is needed. Individual spokesperson training assistance can be found at the Public Relations Society of America website,, or International Association of Business Communicators,

Build relationships. The VMA also should develop and maintain relationships with the local media, and provide timely responses to reporters and writers when asked. This article is geared toward business executives, but has good tips that can be applied to any professional:

Create a media plan. While some issues seem to pop up in a number of states at the same time, many issues differ from state to state. Your VMA should create a media plan for each issue. You'll want to include in that plan a press release with room to add comments from individuals like an officer or a third party partner/expert; plans for utilizing your Facebook page and Twitter feed (if appropriate); a list of FAQs that can be easily distributed to the media and/or legislators; backgrounders with information on why this issue matters to the veterinarians of your state; talking points for officers and others; identified appropriate spokesperson(s) and their contact information (that means nights and weekends, too); and a plan for monitoring ongoing media on each topic.

AVMA contact information