Advocacy days are key events that allow individuals and shared interest groups to lobby legislators directly. Associations, non-profits, businesses, and concerned citizens use them to let their representatives hear their voice and learn their constituents’ positions. Advocacy days involve careful planning and patient execution, here are a few considerations as you plan and execute your advocacy day.
Advocacy days can come in many shapes and sizes, and the format for your lobby day will drastically change how your event is executed. Is your lobby day online or in-person? This distinction did not exist before COVID-19, but pandemic restrictions have changed much of how we interact with the world. Online advocacy days became not only a possibility but a necessity as many legislatures closed their doors to the public, and online advocacy days will likely remain as a new tool for advocating to legislators.
The greatest advantages offered by an online lobby day are mobility and accessibility. Rather than physically going to a capitol building and reserving space or the other logistical needs of the event, you can run the advocacy day from the comfort of your home or office, and this extends to participants as well. Travel becomes a non-issue, and breakout rooms can enhance discussions between participants and speakers immensely. However, there are downsides.
Paying attention and remaining engaged can be difficult online, and this is especially true in a home office or other distracting areas. Another consideration is to make sure your speakers have experience with an online platform. Even the most electrifying presenters can struggle in a new setting.
Are your members tech-savvy enough to navigate a web-based advocacy day? Are physical aids a major part of your presentation? An important consideration is whether your messaging can be presented in an online setting. Peanut planters regularly give Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches at lobby days to showcase their crops, but this changes when moving to an online advocacy day. Special considerations are needed to translate this into an online format, such as sending PB&J kits to legislators, and this must be addressed when planning.
An in-person advocacy day may be more challenging logistically, but it is a tried-and-true method for lobbying your legislators. Elected officials are more likely to meet with their constituents, especially a large group of them. In 2015, 94-percent of congressional staff said that “in-person visits from constituents” would have “some” to “a lot” of influence on an undecided lawmaker. Meeting in person allows legislators to associate your participants face, voice, and frame to the well-researched information presented to them.
There are many questions to ask in preparation for an advocacy day. Is it themed? Are there any pieces of legislation you will speak on? These questions need to be answered beforehand, but executing an advocacy day takes preparation and knowledge, and the knowledge must be put to good use.
Make sure participants have their lobbying packets, which can include talking points, scripts, data sheets, and more. These advocacy packets should be given out early and gone over in detail. Answer any and all questions your attendees may have.
Consider your lobby day goal. Is the purpose networking, building brand recognition, or lobbying on a specific issue or legislation? When forming a relationship, leverage your participants expertise to aid elected officials and their staff.
“Lobbying provides members of Congress, state legislatures, and city council people with the information they need to make the best decisions for their constituencies” Lobby Day Tool Kit, National Association of Social Workers.
Get your stance and expertise known, and legislators may call you up the next time an issue in your wheelhouse rolls along.
Building brand recognition is integral in a long-term advocacy plan. Appearing as a well-organized group and speaking intelligently and coherently will go a long way. Wearing similar clothing or a specific piece of clothing (such as a button) can help and remember to take pictures for marketing and social media!
Advocating specific issues requires similar preparation to networking with legislators, but your organization should craft a specific position. Be prepared to ask legislators where they stand on your issue. Ask for specific actions such as voting one way or the other, meeting with your group later, or sponsoring a bill or ordinance.
Be direct in what is asked, and honest when answering questions officials may have. Honest, useful answers will go a long way in building trust between your group and officials. Whether it is building brand recognition, networking, or advocating for an issue, there is much to remember. Here are a few tips to help your lobby day at the capitol:
Now that you know how to plan and execute an advocacy day, you are ready for the final step, following up!
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