Wondering how to lobby your elected officials, cut through the noise, and rise to the top of the advocacy pile? It’s easy with these six simple steps.
In the last blog post, Four Things to do Before You Lobby Your Lawmaker, you picked a communication method for conveying your ask. If you haven’t done that, go back and read it or click here for a free chart of most to least effective communication methods.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume you’ll be making a phone call or visiting their office in-person. Here’s how to lobby (effectively):
1. Get on their schedule. If you’re meeting in person with the lawmaker or their staff – either in their Capitol office or the District office – try to schedule a 10 minute meeting ahead of time. Call to confirm the meeting and, for pity’s sake, if you’re running late, call and let them know. Don’t be afraid to meet with an aide if they cancel last minute. It happens all the time due to last minute votes and staff are the ones who do most of the work anyway.
2. Have your swag ready to go. In politics, we call something you can slide across the table a “a leave behind or a one pager”. And I do mean one. Politicians and their aides get trash barrels full of requests and that’s where a lot of it ends up if it’s not concise. Trust me, if they want more, they’ll ask for it. Things to include:
- Program/Bill name, line-item/bill number
- If you’re asking them to co-sponsor something, don’t forget to name the lead sponsor. And while you’re at it, include your name and contact info!
- Information about who and how many (ballpark) people who will be impacted (preferably people in their district) and why it’s important.
This one-pager can also used as your “cheat sheet” to make sure you the have details jotted down in the event of a temporary brain freeze. (Lobbying can be intimidating; it’s okay to have notes!)
3. Perfect your elevator speech. An elevator speech is literally what you can say if you’re going from the 10th floor to the 1st with your lawmaker. So, who you are, where you’re from (district), what you’re concerned about (specific issue) and why it’s important to you.
If your legislator doesn’t understand what you want in less than a couple of minutes, your credibility and ability to communicate decreases. The important thing with an elevator speech is to keep it high level. Tell them what it is, what problem it’s fixing (or what gain it’s creating), why it’s important to his/her district, and–if it’s funding– how it will be sustained. The details, whether it be bill nuances or personal stories, can be addressed later in the conversation. You just want to be able to grab their attention by showing them you’re a constituent and letting them know what you want.
4. Make the Ask. Understand these offices hear from constituents left and right. Plan on limiting your time to 5-10 minutes. If they choose to extend the conversation, great. But plan on getting everything across in 5 minutes or less.
Whether in-person or over the phone, here’s how to lobby using the Effective Activism 101 Anatomy of The Ask. The conversation should typically go something like this:
- Identify yourself as a constituent. “Hi, I’m Stefanie Coxe. I’m a constituent from Cambridge.”
- Ask to speak with the elected official or aide responsible for the subject matter. (If you’re calling an office, expect that you’ll be speaking with staff. Again, that’s okay. They can be your best advocate.)
- Let them know what you’d like to discuss – in one line. For example, “I’d like to talk to you about student loan debt.”
- Ask them a question to engage them: “Senator Smith is sponsoring legislation to reform student lending. Have you heard of it?”
- Use your framing and storytelling: “There are a lot of students in the Greater Boston area and city leaders want to keep the young talent in the city after graduation as part of the workforce. This helps keep the local economy growing. But I know from my own experience that doing things that create roots – like buying a home – are a lot harder when you have debt.”
- Ask if the elected official has taken a position. If not, ask if you can connect with them later on once they’ve had a chance to consider. Get their aide’s extension or email.
- Make sure they have all your contact info. This also applies if you get a voicemail.
- Thank them for taking the time to hear you out.
5. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. A week or two after your meeting, make a pleasant call to the aide asking if their boss has had a chance to consider your request or take an action promised in the meeting.
- Identify yourself as a constituent and remind them of your previous conversation
- If they haven’t made a decision, tell them you’ll follow-up again in a few weeks
- Make a note in your calendar to call again
6. After all that, thank them. You may wonder why you should thank them. After all, this is their job, right? Well, remember, you’re trying to be an effective activist and that requires a bit of guile and strategy. Thank yous help because they’re rare. They build warm feelings (and relationships). And they make lawmakers and staff feel appreciated.
So send them a note thanking them for taking the time to meet with you. Thank their aide. If they do as you ask, take it further. If this is an issue they would want made public, send a letter to the editor and/or a social media shout out.
If you follow the framework outlined in How to (Effectively) Lobby Your Elected Official in Six Steps, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of rising to the top of the advocacy pile. It doesn’t end there, though. Relationship-building is critical to the difference between a fly-by-night activist and a serious activist. Sign up for the e-newsletter to learn when the blog post on that topic is live.
Stefanie Coxe is the founder & principal of Nexus Werx LLC, a political training company offering the Learn to Lobby line of online and in-person training products including Effective Activism 101, Lobbying 101, and a Community Monitoring Program for membership-based organizations. Sign up for her e-newsletter to get tips on training and mobilizing members and activists. And for individual activists, learn how to build your own personal activism plan (just like a lobbyist) with the online course: www.effectiveactivism101.com.