Tips for Hosting a Successful Lobby Day
While email is an easy, quick way to communicate with members of Congress, nothing is better than a face-to-face meeting for getting a message across. Full-time professional advocates, however, never have the time or capacity to meet personally with all of the members they want to impact.
Enlisting the help of the members of an advocacy organization through a lobby day can enhance the efforts of professional staff greatly. A well-organized effort can promote a message to more members of Congress in a single day than most professional advocacy staff can see in a year. Furthermore, members of Congress ultimately get their mandate from their constituents. They strive to be responsive to sentiment in their home districts. They likely will be more receptive to a message delivered by folks from back home than someone working out of a Washington office.
Hosting a successful lobby day involves several stages:
- Setting Up The Meeting: Most Members want to meet with constituents who live in their district. Before starting to set up meetings, it is important to figure out what Congressional districts participants live in so the organization can be sure to contact the right office. Don’t assume grassroots members know who their congressional representative is. If there will be a large group participating in the lobby day, the easiest thing to do for the initial meeting request is to send an email out via a service such as Knowlegis that can pull the emails of all the schedulers quickly. Using such a service will also save the time of figuring out if a scheduler works out of a district or Washington, DC office.
- Pre-Meeting Materials: Activists need to be well-versed on the issues they’ll be promoting. In order for that to happen, an organization should provide them with materials and talking points ahead of time. This step gives them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the issues and ask any questions they might have beforehand.
- Confirm The Meeting: Send an email to the member offices about a week out to confirm meetings. Most offices are prompt in their response to meeting requests, but some will need some following up with in order to nail a meeting down. Make sure to give offices as much information as possible including date and time of the meeting, who is attending, and the issues advocates will want to discuss.
- Activist Training: Whether the lobby day involves a group of seasoned activists or individuals who have never lobbied before, it is always a good idea to do a “Lobbying 101” training session before the meeting. This should include who is talking about what, how to briefly talk about the issues, what to do if there is disagreement, and how to follow up. Make sure that everyone has a chance to participate so they get the full experience.
- Meeting: Meetings with Members can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour depending on how much time the member has to spend with your group. Keep in mind that advocates might be taking a meeting with a staff person if the Member is not available. Participants should treat these people with the same level of respect as they would a member as they are the member’s eyes and ears and are just as versed in the policy issues (if not more so). Advocates should express concerns in a concise manner and give the member (or staffer) time to respond. If your organization and the member disagree on an issue, don’t become disagreeable. State your stance calmly, allow time to respond, thank them, and then move on. Members want to know how these issues affect their constituents so highlight how it affects people living in the member’s district.
- Leave-Behind Materials: Lobby day participants won’t have time to delve deeply into each issue. Make sure that they have materials that they can leave behind that go into more detail on the issues discussed. Those materials should Include contact information for someone in the group in case the member has follow-up questions.
- Follow up: After the meeting, choose (at least) one person from the group to send a follow-up email to the member or staffer who met with the group. They should thank the Member for their time and provide any information or follow-up materials that may have been requested during the meeting. This is a good time to reiterate positions on the issues as well as any requests that were made.
A lobby day is a lot of work but it is well worth the time and effort. Not only does it give an organization the opportunity to get a message out to a broad spectrum of lawmakers, it also allows supporters to feel like they are making a difference. They walk away feeling engaged, empowered, and ready to fight the good fight.
Sarah Woodbury is the operations and field outreach coordinator for the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, D.C.