Project Wonderful

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How To Lobby Like a BAMF: Ten Lobbying Commandments

(Editor's Note: This a guest post and part of a three part series from the amazing Carly Pildis, an OFA alumna who will explain her current position in her post below. It is part of my continued effort to share tools and information to help our community feel empowered in the Trump era. Thank you so much to Carly for sharing your wisdom!)

I present to you the Ten Lobbying Commandments. Please sing to yourself to the tune of the Notorious B.I.G.’s ten crack commandments, or Hamilton’s ten duel commandments, whatever is your pleasure. This is your guide to acing that meeting you scheduled and turning action into change!

1. Treat MOCs and their aides well.
I know you want to speak truth to power. I know a lot of you are really angry. Use those desires in a constructive way. Aides shift through a lot of virulent anger that translates into very actionable requests on legislation. Knowledgeable, passionate constituents get listened to, furious diatribes do not. Most people go into government because they really believe they can make the world a better place. They work inordinately long hours and could have superior lifestyles if they left government.Treat them with respect.

2.Never ever lie.
You are not Kellyanne Conway. If they ask you a question and you do not know the answer that is okay. Just say,"I am not sure. I can find out for you, and I will follow up." This gives you a great excuse to check in and see if what they are thinking later!

3.Do not come in without a clear yes or no ask.
A friend who worked as an aide for a prominent Southern Senator told me she would get calls everyday asking her to protect the 2nd amendment. Two years into the job she still had no idea what these people actually wanted her Member to vote for and against, or if there was even a relevant bill. Don’t be those people. People work in government because they want to do good and make change - don’t bring them a sad story that they can’t do anything about. It wastes their time and makes them want to reach for the emergency bourbon under their desk. Your meeting must end with a YES or NO question that translates to action their part.

4.Show them who you are.
Who are you in the community? Are you a teacher, a doctor, a small business owner? Are you a person from a demographic that is important to this Member? Think about all of the ways that you are a community leader, someone whose opinion they should care about, and then make sure you communicate that to them. Do you have other members of that block of voters who would come with you or would write letters to deliver to the Member? You’d be surprised how big a difference ten or twenty letters make.

5.Speak their language and sell your ask.
I could talk all day about how the transatlantic slave trade and colonization decimated African countries and how foreign aid is a moral obligation. This is not compelling language to most Americans. Instead, I talk about how fighting epidemics worldwide makes a safer, healthier world for everyone. I talk about the linkages between lack of access to free primary school and violent extremism. I talk about how investing in child nutrition grows economies and builds trading partners. I look at what Members of Congress care about and value and create links. When talking to Members about abstinence only earmarks on AIDS funding, I talked about how it was an enormous waste of money that didn’t yield any results. I called it pork. That helped contextualize why it mattered to people. Look at their websites, look at what they care about and then package your ask and your issues to fit those values whenever possible.

6.Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Let’s be clear, lobbying should involve a yes or no question and if you get a yes you win. Yahtzee! Bingo! Tag! But there is always going to be a next ask, a next thing you want. So don’t burn bridges. I had one staffer I met with tell me about a lobbyist who convinced her member to vote as lobbyist wanted, but was so unprofessional she never took a meeting with her again. She meant it. They could have advocated more respectfully and built, not burned a relationship.

7.DO snatch victory from the jaws of "No."
You didn’t win. They won’t do what you want. That’s okay! You had a great meeting, started building a relationship and educated your Member or their aide about the issue. Hopefully you moved the needle a little by showing that their constituents care. These relationships are gold - and this is a good beginning. Sometimes it can take a while to get what you want, but this was still an important step. Sometimes winning is your MOC abstaining from a vote. Sometimes it takes a few rounds of budget appropriations to win support. But building that relationship is ALWAYS worth your time.

8.Share your personal story.
Members of Congress care about how policy affects their constituents. Tell them why you care, how it affects you, and what you want them to do. A good personal story has some key hallmarks. It’s short (about 3 minutes). It draws a straight line between people who vote and a policy ask. It has one memorable visual image. It is honest. I have seen aides cry at constituent stories. I have seen stories from constituents change Members forever. Speak your truth and tell them why this matters. This is your moment to shine.

9.Structure your time.
If you are 5 minutes late you may miss the meeting. This is not an exaggeration. Lobby meetings are 5 to 15 minutes max. Structure your time to share your story, make a few key points with statistics, and make a hard ask. Leave a few minutes for small talk. Be prepared to talk longer in case you get lucky, but it’s rare. So make sure you have a plan in place and use your time wisely.

10.Don’t show up empty handed.
You wouldn’t go to a party without a bottle of wine, don’t go to a lobby meeting without a leave behind packet. This is a great place to put reports on the issue, additional relevant information, and hard facts to back you up. Also come with letters. This is really important. Bring ten or twenty handwritten letters (NOT a petition) from constituents saying that they care and why. These letters get MOCs attention and can make a huge difference. The more letters the better.

Carly Pildis serves as Senior Associate, Advocacy and Organizing for RESULTS. She manages the REAL Change Organizing and Advocacy Fellowship to Fight Poverty. She also managed candidate engagement around the 2016 POTUS primary, and works closely with both the legislative team and grassroots team on RESULTS campaigns. Prior to her time at RESULTS, she served as Operation Vote Director for the DC office of Obama for America, working to organize people of color and other constituency groups in support of the 2012 reelection campaign. Additionally she has served as a Fellow for Jubilee USA Network, and as a Advocacy Consultant/Field Organizer for American Jewish World Services on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Want to join her in the fight to protect foreign aid and stop budget cuts that would threaten the futures of millions of people living in poverty? Email her or follow her on twitter @carlypildis

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