Friday, July 15, 2011

Spring Lobby Days: The Art of Preparation

I’m sure you have heard the old saying “The early bird catches the worm.” Well, this is especially true when it comes to planning your Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. Spring is an extremely popular time for groups to come lobby their Members of Congress, and it’s not just because D.C. is beautiful in the spring (although that certainly doesn’t hurt). Aside from the lure of our famous cherry blossoms, springtime is when Congress begins debating budget resolutions for the following Fiscal Year (in theory anyway), and there are often new Members of Congress to start building relationships with. So while it may seem like March and April are far off in the distance, remember that those who plan in advance (and trust me, there is plenty to do) usually have the most success with their Lobby Day (i.e. catch the proverbial worm).

So what can you do to start preparing for your next Lobby Day now? I thought you’d never ask, but since you have here are 4!

Establish a date. The sooner you have dates, the sooner you can work logistics. You might want to run potential dates by your advocates and see what feedback you get in terms of availability. When are the best times to go? It’s impossible to predict the legislative calendar for next year because they don’t make it this far in advance, but be sure to avoid Mondays, Fridays, and weeks with federal holidays if you want to maximize meetings with actual Members of Congress. You might also look at this year’s Congressional calendar (available for the Senate and House) to get a sense of what might happen next year – although this can ALWAYS change!

Identify your policy issues. It’s never too early to start thinking about your approach for future Lobby Days. Here are some things to consider in the coming months. The appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2012 is currently underway. What happened/is happening to the programs you care about? What are your goals for Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations? What feedback did you get from your most recent Lobby Day? What seemed to work well in meetings, and what didn’t? How should you alter your strategy next time to be more effective? What were your legislative “asks” during your last Lobby Day? Did any Members of Congress follow through? Do you want to keep the same “asks” or alter them? Has any new legislation been introduced that is important to your members? What has your organization accomplished since your last Lobby Day, and would you want to highlight them in your meetings?

Identify your "advocacy footprint." While it’s important to build relationships with as many Members of Congress as you can, to paraphrase George Orwell, some Members of Congress are more equal than others when it comes to your specific policy issues. Since the most effective meetings are usually based off of constituency (legislators are always a little nicer to the people who vote in their district), one very important strategic move is to identify your biggest congressional targets and push for advocates living in their districts to participate in your Lobby Day. It may be helpful to see where your participants were from in previous Lobby Days. You can also find a person’s district by entering their zip code into
Think logistics. Start thinking about what group size you expect for next year (how many people attended last year?), how you are handling your registration process, and where you will be bunkered up in D.C. (maybe you want a closer hotel this year). Get feedback from your participants on these issues.

Get your advocactes fired up early. Keeping advocates actively engaged year-round is almost as difficult as keeping your Members of Congress actively engaged year-round. If you are finding that your members are starting to lose their fresh-off-a-Lobby-Day buzz, start getting them excited about next year’s event. Host a webinar about planning for next year or about the importance of following up after a Lobby Day. Plan a policy call to keep your members in the loop about what’s going on in Congress. And if that doesn’t work, just send out fliers for D.C.’s 2012 Cherry Blossom Festival and let them come to you.

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