Lobby Visits For Nonprofits: Planning a Lobby Day
Here Are Some Tips for How to Make Your Lobby Days Impactful
How can you get the most out of your lobby day?
Every year groups go to Washington, D.C. or their state Capitol to try and impact legislation. At the same time, they are there with a dozen other groups doing lobby visits and it’s even hard to get nonprofit lobby days on the calendar. Lobby days can be a complicated business, but we’re here to help.
Bottom line: If you want to make lobby visit count, you need to think ahead and have a real plan.
COVID-19 UPDATE: Especially under the restrictions of a pandemic when we have to be socially distant there needs to be much more preparation and plans put in place to help make these important efforts as effective as possible.
Have a real connection: Legislators are meant to be public servants, but for most, during a lobby day that is usually only true if they are being lobbied by their own constituents (and bonus points if they are also a consistent voter). Therefore, it’s highly encouraged to have as many constituents of your target legislators in your group on the day of your lobby visit. However, you should also balance that with those folks who are directly impacted by the issue you are lobbying or advocating for.
COVID-19 UPDATE: With lobby days turning to the virtual arena or some over the phone, you can use that to your benefit to get even more involvement of the target legislator’s constituents because people don’t have to take as much time out of their personal life, since they don’t have to physically travel anywhere.
Be prepared: It takes a good amount of organization and effort to recruit for and plan a lobby day visit, so don't just show up. You need to have a plan and be very clear on what your messages and talking points are, which may vary based on the legislator. You also should be very clear with your volunteers about what they are asking their legislators to do. Are they asking to vote a certain way on a bill? Is the ask to co-sponsor a piece of legislation? Or is it to include your issue in budgeting allocations? Knowing that having the undivided attention of your legislator is rare, try and think one-step further and plan what your follow up steps will be, so you can address them at the end of your visit.
COVID-19 UPDATE: When planning to do lobby days virtually, the follow-up and next steps are even more critical. Because you don’t have that in-person interaction which tends to be more memorable than a video call or regular phone call, being prepared to repeat back your ask and follow-up steps at the end of the call will help ensure those promises made by your legislator are acted upon.
Be different: Speaking of being memorable, try and think up different ways on how you can help your visit stand out from the hundreds of other visits also happening on the hill. Being creative and understanding what your organization or group superpower is will help set you apart from other visits. For example, is your group of volunteers the most knowledge of the issue you’re advocating for, or do you have some special connection to the legislator, or does your group have a unique take on an issue, or do you have some impacted individual with really powerful and memorable stories to share? You want to play up these differences to make your visits as memorable and impactful as possible. These are all great ways to help you stand out from the crowd and leave a lasting impression.
COVID-19 UPDATE: This is again really important when planning a virtual lobby day because you are not there in person to show that visual of hundreds of members in shirts in the hallways. However, being virtual also might allow you to do things that you could not do in person like share a video or PowerPoint deck on the screen, or bring in folks to the meeting that may not have been able to attend due to the inability to travel and be there in-person. Use the benefits of the virtual space to your advantage, but also understand that with technology comes a lot more opportunities for technical issues so have a plan for troubleshooting and do a dress rehearsal to make sure everything will work according to plan.
Be social: On social media that is. For in-person lobby days you want to layer in a social media element so that your volunteers can update their networks on your efforts and help create some buzz around it. Create a hashtag or have them share videos to help broadcast and bring light to the issue you’re working on. Legislators and their staff will likely be tracking Twitter and Facebook, so use social media to help publicize your visit before, after, and during. Create a quick and easy “how-to” guide for your volunteers to participate online in real time. For example, they can share some feedback about their meeting with their legislator and whether or not they were supportive of your efforts. As an organization, you can use social media to your advantage to further communication with members and distribute information quickly if needed the day of.
COVID-19 UPDATE: With a virtual lobby day you can build social media into your efforts to help engage your supporters and volunteers from their homes. Even if they are attending a virtual video meeting, they can still help raise awareness about your issue by sharing a tweet, reposting on Facebook, or talking about their personal experience with your issue and including your hashtag. Try and think of creative ways to show that there is larger public support for your cause or issue.
Layer your actions: To help increase your impact for your lobby day you may want to consider layering in some additional efforts to help get noticed by legislators. We’ve seen a number of different layers work such as having constituents write letters to the editor or gather volunteers for follow-up events in the legislator’s district, or if the budget allows adding a paid advertising campaign can all work well in conjunction with a lobby visit.
Follow-up: As we’ve said before, the key to a successful lobby visit is the follow-up. Don’t bother putting in all the effort to host a lobby day if you are not going to follow-up and continue to keep the pressure on the legislators.
Have questions about building a strategy for lobby visits and lobby days? Drop us a note.