Lobbying your legislators is about persuading them to do what you want. Effective lobbying requires a coordination of two different kinds of lobbying activity:

“Inside” Lobbying
One form of lobbying takes place in the Capital of the state or country. It includes a mix of the following:

  • Meetings with lawmakers and legislative staff.
  • Providing analysis and information to committees and legislative offices.
  • Negotiating with policy makers and other lobby groups.

“Outside” Lobbying
An effective lobbying campaign also requires outside activity, aimed at shifting the politics and pressure around the issue. Some of these activities include:

  • Media activity including news conferences, editorial board visits, and assisting reporters with stories.
  • Local lobbying visits by constituents to their legislators.
  • Building broad and diverse coalitions.
  • Letter writing campaigns to legislators.
  • Grassroots activity such as rallies, etc.

Five Practical Tips

Establish your agenda and goals.

  • Decide what you would like to get out of the visit, i.e., a commitment to vote for your issue, leadership on the issue, or you may decide the visit is simply informational.
  • Be direct and know what subject you are going to address. Don’t overload with issues — stick to no more than two or three.
  • If it is a group visit, decide who will start the discussion and put your agenda on the table.
  • Allow time for small talk at the outset, but not too much. Remember, it’s your visit.

Listen well.

  • Much of lobbying is listening, looking for indications of the politician’s views, and finding opportunities to provide good information.
  • If you are meeting with a “silent type,” draw her/him out by asking questions. If you are confronted with a “long-winded type,” look for openings to bring her/him back to the point.
  • Most elected officials are generalists, like many of us. Do your homework, but don’t feel that you need to know every little detail of an issue. Air personal feelings and experiences where appropriate. Relate the concerns of your friends and members of the community.
  • Know when to admit “I don’t know,” and offer to follow up with the information.
  • Be open to counter-arguments, but don’t get stuck on them. Don’t be argumentative or confrontational.

Don’t stay too long – Try to get closure on your issue. If you hear what you had hoped
for, express your thanks and leave. If you reach an impasse, thank her/him, even if disappointed, and say so. Leave room to continue the discussion at another time.

Remember you are there to build a relationship – If the elected official is good on an issue you’ve been involved in or has supported your position in the past, be sure to acknowledge your appreciation during the course of the visit. If the opposite is true, think of the phrase, “No permanent friends, no permanent enemies.” Some day, on some issue of importance to you, s/he may come through. In the meantime, your visit may prevent the official from being an active opponent. In other words, you may help to turn down the heat on the other side.

Follow-up – Be sure to send a thank-you note after the visit. If commitments were made in the meeting, repeat your understanding of them. If staff members were present, write to them too. They can often be important allies.

From: Lobbying: The Basics