Lobbying Pro Tips from Friends Committee on National Legislation

This past Saturday, June 17, the Montclair Friends Meeting hosted Emily Wirzba of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) for a workshop in Effective Lobbying.

FCNL, which will be celebrating its 75th anniversary next year, focuses upon Congress and National policy, and “lobbies Congress and the administration to advance peace, justice, opportunity, and environmental stewardship.”

Like Citizens Climate Lobby, FCNL operates from a respectful position that seeks common ground and shared values, regardless of party affiliation. This is not a strategic stance, but springs from the Quaker belief in the light of God that resides in every single human being.

Ms. Wirzba, an FCNL Legislative Representative lobbying Congress in Sustainable Energy and Environment, had numerous tips on how to effectively lobby elected officials at all levels of government.

The key message for me, was that lobbying is a skill set that can be taught, and learned. It’s about relationship building with those that you disagree with, and although it can be challenging, it can be transformational, for both the lobbyist and those being lobbied.

Boiling down the three hour workshop:

Do your homework:
– What do I want, and who can give it to me?
– What do they want, and how can I provide it?
Conduct power mapping of the elected official
– What major industries and players are in their district?
– What is their personal history, and how might it align to your cause?

When calling your Senator or Congressperson to express your desire to have them vote one way or another, call the Washington, DC office, rather than the district office, as that is where the legislative director sits.

One question that has been under debate lately is whether it is at all useful to contact members of Congress for whom you are not a constituent – do they pay any attention. The answer from Ms. Wirzba was an unqualified “no”. In fact, it is widely known that snail mail sent by non-constituents are simply thrown in the trash. However, if you are trying to get through to a powerful Member of Congress, you can send your message directly to the Committee on which they sit. You can also use social media for those who do not represent you.

When writing Letters to Editor, not only may your letter not get published, but if it does, you may get no notification and be unaware it is in print. Always submit your letter drafts to your elected official (E.O.) at the same time it is submitted to the publication – especially for positive letters in support of the E.O., as they may not get published.

If you get an in-person meeting with your E.O., bring a one-pager that clearly states the “Ask”, presents the supporting facts and arguments, and provides your group’s contact info. Make it easy for the staff – clear language, limited to one page. Be kind – you have no idea how many people they see in a week.

Have a clearly defined team, with a group leader, note-taker, timekeeper, and delegation members to share personal stories about how this issue affects you, your family, and your community. Use quantifiable statistics whenever possible, in addition to anecdotes (e.g., “in the first 100 days of office, the current administration has deported 40% more individuals than at the same time last year”).

Start the meeting with “Thank you”, and end it the same way.

Be prepared with a list of the E.O.’s colleagues that are supporting the Ask – knowing that s/he would not be alone will help to give your E.O. political cover.

Stick to one specific request. Don’t bring in the kitchen sink. You have a short window of opportunity – usually 30 minutes – don’t muddy the water.

Practice, practice, practice to ensure that all your team is on message. And don’t judge the success of your efforts on the results of just one meeting. This work takes time.

FCNL has a wealth of more advocacy resources on their website. Particularly useful is the Lobby Visit Planner & Roadmap, which you and your advocacy team can use to organize your meeting and stay focused.

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