The Voice of Small Business – Grassroots Relationships with Legislators

Date: November 19, 2020

A Q&A with NFIB Grassroots Director Jessica Cooper

Votes have been cast, and except for a few recounts and runoff elections, we know who our legislators will be next year.

So as a small business owner, what can you do to lay the groundwork for good small business policies?

We sat down for a Q&A with Jessica Cooper, the head of NFIB’s grassroots action team for answers to questions about how NFIB members can build relationships with legislators and make a meaningful impact on laws and regulations that will be decided by state and federal lawmakers.

If NFIB members could do just one thing to help their elected officials understand the needs of small business, what can they do?

Jessica: Simply, I hope business owners will take advantage of their membership. They can customize their NFIB Profile with advocacy preferences and priorities, so we can keep them posted on issues they care about.

We know business owners are busy running their businesses, so we aim to connect them with ways to meaningfully engage, often without taking too much time. That’s important because legislators listen when small business owners share the real impact that laws and regulations have on their business, employees, family, and community.

Do legislators truly need to hear from small business owners directly?

Jessica: Numbers matter. Legislators need to hear directly from the constituents they were elected to serve. The voice of small business – business owners’ unique stories and real-world examples about how a law or rule will impact their business, employees, and the community they serve, helps educate legislators – and goes hand-in-hand with the direct lobbying NFIB staff do in the fight for the rights of small businesses. 

With the election in the rearview, I encourage NFIB members to consider reaching out to their newly elected or re-elected representatives at the state and federal level: Introduce yourself, your business, and key issues you are concerned about. Offer to be a resource if they ever have any questions about your industry or how legislation might impact your business. Start building a relationship – this can be even more important and impactful with legislators that don’t always support small business issues and can make a difference.

Does grassroots action really make a difference?

Jessica: Yes! Absolutely. Lawmakers tell us they need our membership to speak up. They want real-world stories and examples to help them understand the issues. NFIB and our members need to educate legislators on the real-world impact legislation, laws, and regulations have on small businesses and their employees. Many legislators have never worked for or owned a small business, so unless we work to inform them on the small business perspective, how else do we expect them to understand? That’s why anecdotes from members are so important.

Together, we advocate for good policy, stop anti-small business legislation from becoming law, and fight to reverse harmful laws. Grassroots action by NFIB members has resulted in victories like the historic 2017 tax cuts, the small business tax deduction, and making small business expensing permanent. But there’s still much work to be done.

This year alone, NFIB members sent more than 52,500 messages to their lawmakers and participated in more than 100 meetings with lawmakers all across the nation, most of them virtual.

What can I expect from NFIB as a member?

Jessica: Most often, NFIB members will see “Action Alert” emails asking them to email or call their legislators about how a particular bill would affect their business. Legislators are elected to serve their communities, and when they hear from many of their constituents on an issue, it raises awareness and clarifies how a particular vote would affect their district. Our system takes care of sending the emails, so all NFIB members need to do is customize the draft message we provide with examples on how the issue would or does impact their business and follow the prompts. It’s pretty seamless.

We also send surveys about issues to collect member’s thoughts and experiences. Members’ survey and ballot responses help guide NFIB’s work and provide real-world examples to assist our lobbying efforts to educate and inform legislators.

Throughout the year we offer special events where members can meet, virtually or in-person, with their legislators and candidates. This opportunity creates two-way communication directly between our members and the legislators themselves. It also humanizes the issues – when a legislator hears directly from a business owner on how an issue may positively or negatively impact their business – it puts a face on the issue, and creates opportunities to build relationships. Legislators love to have examples to justify their positions. Actively participating in NFIB events and action alerts helps make this possible.

I’ve never been politically active. How do I get started and how much time is it going to take?

Jessica: NFIB strives to make getting involved quick, easy, and sometimes fun! Engagement can be as easy as using one of our action alerts to email their legislators, which can take less than a minute. Depending on interest levels and needs, we also look for members to share the small business perspective with the media – either by interview or by submitting a letter to the editor; and with legislative committees, by testifying in a state or federal committee hearing – either in-person or virtually. Our team helps prepare members interested in these activities, and members never need to do anything they aren’t comfortable with. To learn more about getting involved and tips for success, visit NFIB’s Advocacy Center at NFIB.com/Advocacy-Center.

For members who want to be kept apprised of opportunities to get involved on issues they care about, customizing their NFIB Profile is an essential first step to let us know. Learn how to customize your profile.

Another way to stay informed on issues and opportunities to get involved is to regularly use NFIB’s Engage Mobile App for smartphones. It provides easy access to NFIB’s state and federal issue ballots, action alerts, and news, along with surveys and events. Learn more and download the NFIB Engage App at NFIB.com/App. 

NFIB’s Grassroots Team and the entire NFIB staff are here to serve our members. With questions or to learn more, please connect with your state’s grassroots manager or email grassroots@NFIB.com.

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