What is a Lobby Day?
Whether you call it Hill day or fly-in, a lobby day is when you gather your organization and advocates either locally, in Washington, D.C., or virtually to meet with lawmakers and get their support for your issues. A lobby day is one of the most powerful tools in your advocacy arsenal.
As Joshua Habursky, head of government affairs at the Premium Cigar Association, puts it, a lobby day is like the Super Bowl of grassroots advocacy. “You can't expect to get to the Super Bowl and win if you have a poor regular season,” he says. So, the first step for a successful lobby day is to make your advocacy strategy for the entire year is on point. Likewise, “you can have a great regular season, but if you have a bad lobby day, that's going to hurt your grassroots program,” Habursky adds.
A well-organized lobby day can help draw attention to your issues, establish and strengthen relationships with policymakers, generate a feel-good factor for membership, and ultimately, move the needle on your organization’s legislative priorities.
Why are Lobby Days Important?
Lobby days allow your supporters to get in front of and speak directly with lawmakers to share their personal stories. It helps put faces to the issues your organization is advocating for.
“The staffers may not be interested in talking to us lobbyists if they don’t already know us, but they’ll always talk to their constituents,” says Russell Harrison, director of government relations at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE-USA).
Tips for Lobby Day Success
Pulling off a great lobby day that attendees will be talking about for months to come is no easy task. There’s an incredible amount of planning and coordination to mobilize supporters and earn time with lawmakers.
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Depending on your goals and resources, there are several ways to organize a lobby day. Most groups opt to keep the “Hill” in “Hill day” and have their members fly to Washington, D.C. Others focus on the local and connect their members with federal or state representatives during “at home” time in the legislative district. Though nowadays in-person meetings are scarce and options have been reduced to pretty much only being able to host virtual lobby days.
No matter the format, preparation for a successful lobby day should start about four or five months out — and technology plays a big role in making everything run smoothly. FiscalNote’s advocacy app helps you iron out an agenda, appointments list, elected official bios, talking points on the issues, and location maps. Whether your goal is to increase the number of cosponsors on a bill or raise issue awareness, a lobby day — virtual or in-person — will certainly help push your issues forward.
With peak fly-in season almost upon us, and scores of groups vying for spots on top lawmakers’ schedules, here are six tips for your organization to rise above the noise and conduct a successful lobby day:
1. Coordinate With Lawmakers’ Offices Early
Many groups start scheduling appointments anywhere from three weeks to two months before the event. It’s a tedious process — especially for advocacy leaders with a lot on their plates — but the sooner you can get on their schedule, the better.
The first thing to do is make sure you have the most up-to-date contact information for those key lawmakers and their staffers using a Congressional directory such as FiscalNote’s Knowlegis. Then, while some groups hire outside teams to manage the scheduling process, others rely on advocacy staff to get the job done. Lauren DePutter, director of political programs at the College of American Pathologists, even suggests allowing advocates to set up their own lobby day meetings.
“I really want members to learn how to lobby on their own and to develop a relationship with the offices,” she said. She provides a template for advocates to follow but encourages them to personalize it, so it doesn’t look like all the other form letters lawmakers receive.
Some tips to keep in mind when crafting your meeting requests are:
- Make your meeting requests as concise as possible
- Use bullet points to identify three topics you want to discuss
- Include a short paragraph about your association
- Add a brief bio on each attendee, including their experience with the issue and their full address so staffers know they’re in the lawmaker’s district
Most offices are prompt in their response to meeting requests, but some will need a few follow-ups. Generally, it’s recommended to reach out a week before the meeting to confirm your schedule and make sure everyone is working with the same information.
2. Enlist Your Supporters
If you use a digital advocacy solution such as FiscalNote’s VoterVoice, you should be able to quickly find those advocates or members who are highly engaged with your organization. Identify the supporters who can share your organization’s story in an eloquent, passionate, and personal way. “You're not going to select your advocates that are going to attend your lobby day out of the blue. These are people that have been committed to your organization,” Habursky says.
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Look for members with “hidden or untapped” relationships with legislators and policymakers, says Chip Felkel, CEO of Rap Index, a strategic communications consulting firm. These could be business associates, former schoolmates, or members of the same professional association or house of worship — they could even be related.
“You need to have an appreciation for the value of relationships that exist between your members and those you are trying to influence,” Felkel says. It’s not only about having the right message, but also about having the right messenger.
Then, one of the most critical steps in the process of planning a lobby day is pairing your advocates with their correct member of Congress, which VoterVoice makes easy by automatically matching your supporters’ addresses with the right lawmaker.
3. Educate and Prepare Your Advocates
The lead-up to the lobby day is an excellent time to educate members on what to expect and how to prepare. Remember just because Hill meetings (either in person or virtual) are somewhat the norm for you, some of your attendees maybe haven’t had a similar experience before.
DePutter uses this time to host webinars on lobbying and interacting with policymakers online. The webinars also cover lobby day talking points and reference material, training members on everything from the different branches of government to how to use the D.C. metro or the virtual meeting platform. “I like to give them a lesson in Congress 101,” she says.
Chances are about half of the meetings will be with a lawmaker’s staff. This isn’t a bad thing but your attendees may not know that and feel slighted when the member doesn’t meet them in person. Make sure you’ve briefed them that while some staffers may strike them as very young, they deserve the utmost respect.
Meetings with staffers might also be even more effective than meeting with a policymaker as they may very well know more about your topic or issue, according to Matt Duckworth, vice president of government relations at Hart Health Strategies. And, at the end of the day, it’s the staffer who writes the memo recommending what the member should do.
4. Connect With Media to Earn Awareness
Conducting a lobby day can be a perfect opportunity to reach out to media outlets and increase awareness for your issues and your organization’s efforts. You’re putting all this work in to fly your advocates to D.C., or host meetings with lawmakers at the local or state level, so take the chance to elevate the importance of your issues.
Not all news outlets will cover this type of information but depending on the issues it could get a lift. Leveraging the reach of your lobby day strategy could perhaps get you attention at the regional level, if applicable.
5. Have a Defined Agenda
Before going into the meeting it’s important to establish a clear “ask,” whether it’s signing a letter, cosponsoring a bill, etc. Advocates should understand and feel comfortable with that ask.
It’s important to be mindful of the advocate and the office’s time. If your lobby day goal is to get more cosponsors on a bill, tempting as it is, it’s redundant to have advocates meet with members who have already committed to signing that bill. It may be productive to have them pop in or send an email for a quick “thank you”, but they (and you) will likely get more out of the experience if they accompany a team meeting with another office that might be open to persuasion.
“I want to make sure they’re having constructive meetings,” DePutter says. “I want to make it worth their time, and the staffer’s time.”
6. Create Lobby Day Packet
DePutter makes a folder for each office that the advocates can use as notes and visuals during the meeting. She recommends ensuring these lobby day packets include contact information for someone in the group who can answer the member or staffer’s follow-up questions.
Even if running a virtual lobby day, “leave-behinds” are a crucial strategy to help lawmakers remember the key points after a meeting. You should include important information about the lawmaker, the advocate running the meeting, and your organization. Marianne Eterno, vice president of government relations at GTL, a mid-sized mutual insurer, recommends sending these packets to legislators beforehand.
“We set up a virtual meeting and we send material overnight they can have in front of them, or email a PDF that their staff can print out,” she says. “I think sending the material ahead of time makes a big difference because it feels more like a normal visit to the legislator. When they hang up the phone, they still have a piece of paper or email from us, and they can look back on it.”
What to do After Your Lobby Day
The follow-up to a lobby day can be just as important as the day itself. As Habursky mentioned, advocacy is a year-round effort so here are some tips for post-lobby-day activities.
1. Hold a Reception
“The core of advocacy, whether at the state or federal level, is relationship building. Creating those relationships is vital for success,” says Mary Kusler, senior director at the National Education Association.
Hosting a social event with your advocates and lawmakers can not only help you reinforce your goals but also strengthen the personal relationships that have started to blossom during your lobby day.
2. Send Thank You Notes
After the meetings, make sure your advocates send a thank you note to the people they met with. Beyond that, the lobby day should be seen as the beginning of a relationship. Advocates should stay in touch through social media, email, or whatever channel is most effective.
That said, you should also send thank you notes to your supporters who made time on their calendars to participate in your fly-in, as well as to any Hill members who participated. Showing appreciation for your advocates’ and lawmakers’ time and effort is an essential aspect of growing your base and strengthening relationships.
3. Receive Feedback from Participants
Not too long after your lobby day is over, reconvene with your advocates and gather as much information you can from them to learn what types of conversations they had with lawmakers.
Get intel on logistical details as well: how was the scheduling process, did everyone have all the information they needed for the meeting, were there any technical difficulties? (This last one is particularly important for virtual lobby days).
4. Follow-Up and Communicate Action Items
If your lobby day was successful, there’s probably still a lot of momentum and excitement afterward. Don’t let that fizzle out! Capitalize on it and make sure to communicate on the next steps and action items stemmed from your lobby day meetings to both advocates and lawmakers alike.
5. Debrief With Your Internal Team
After you’ve gathered all feedback and important information from your participants, reconvene internally to identify areas for improvement, opportunities to refine your advocacy strategy throughout the year, and start strategizing about what you can optimize for your next lobby day.
6. Continue Building the Relationships
“Government relations is a people business. You want to establish a personal relationship with the people on the Hill, the people in government, and you want them to know and trust you,” Harrison says.
Use your lobby day as a springboard for continuing fostering relationships and encourage your advocates to stay in touch with lawmakers throughout the year.
Equip Your Team with the Digital Tools Needed for Lobby Days
With so many moving parts, and so much on the line, it’s important to stay organized. FiscalNote has all the tools you need to run your lobby day, from finding supporters, contacting lawmakers, and documenting progress on legislative activities. Our tools allow you to create a custom-branded mobile app that will help you stay organized, keep in touch with advocates, and make it easy for lobby day participants to share results from their activities in real time and track meetings and events. You can also use it to distribute talking points, send maps and share information on elected officials.
For a successful lobby day, you need to organize campaigns, engage supporters, and measure your impact, while ensuring that your message is heard by those with the power to enact change. FiscalNote advocacy solutions help you promote action and engage with the right stakeholders, as well as assess your efficacy and drive results.
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