Bob Ramsey, CAE, Executive Director for the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, guest blogs today, providing insight into the association world...
Organizing a Lobby Day: Tips for Small Associations
A Lobby Day is an organized day where members of your association meet with lawmakers to promote your association’s policy objectives
As the name suggests, a Lobby Day (also referred to as a “legislative day” or “advocacy day”) is an organized day where participating members of your association convene and meet with lawmakers (state or federal) to promote your association’s policy objectives. Lobby Days require meticulous planning months in advance in order to handle all logistics, such as scheduling meetings with lawmakers and arranging all member activities.
Why Should My Small Association Organize a Lobby Day?
Digital advocacy, hired lobbyists and online social media advocacy are all effective channels to promote your association’s legislative agenda. However, there is no replacement for face-to-face interaction between association members and lawmakers. The goal of a Lobby Day is to facilitate brief meetings with lawmakers and share one or two of the most important policy priorities concerning your association’s membership or industry. Small associations should absolutely organize Lobby Days, as this type of legislative activity will make your association seem "bigger" in the legislative space, despite the size of the membership. Lobby Days
How Does My Small Association Encourage Members to Participate in Collective Lobbying?
Start by estimating how many members your association would need present in order to have an effective Lobby Day, maybe it's 5 or maybe it's 50 members. Take into account the cost of supporting these members with meals, policy collateral and transportation (if your budget allows for it). Once you’ve tabulated how many members your association can realistically manage, reach out to your members personally, inviting them to participate in your lobby day. Otherwise, in order to attract your most policy-interested and engaged members, send an email to your membership asking your members to apply to join the Lobby Day or to contact the staff member in charge of organizing the Lobby Day. Members who express an interest in participating have essentially "raised their hand" to become key advocates.
If you are going to call or email your members to encourage them to participate, here are some important points to convey:
- The net impact that members' attendance may have on legislation that will affect their careers or industry area
- Great way to network and meet with other association members
- Unique opportunity to participate in the legislative process and possibly meet with elected officials face-to-face
- Depending on your organization's budget, offering an included Happy Hour and meal are always good tools to attract members!
What Are the Important Logistical Items?
- Choose a date. If you are organizing a Lobby Day during your state legislative session, select a date towards the first few weeks of session. Depending on the length of your legislative session, talking with key lawmakers during the first several weeks of the legislative session may help influence their policy stance for the duration of session.
- Communicate with the lawmaker’s scheduler a few weeks in advance. Some offices will allow you to schedule meetings a couple of months out, and other offices require you call only a couple of weeks of beforehand. It’s best to make sure that you can secure a meeting with key lawmakers as soon as you can so you can begin to plan the daily activities around the meetings. If you are advocating at the state-level, make it known the legislator’s staff that you are organizing a Lobby Day and would like a few moments of the state legislator’s time. At the state-level, there is a good chance your association will be able to score a sit-down meeting with the legislator. For a sample script of what to say on the phone with a lawmaker’s scheduler, the Physicians for a National Health Program have a great example on their website. If your small association is looking to discuss policy with federal-level officials in Washington, DC, you may have to set your sights on legislative aides.
- Have a clear, defined agenda with one or two specific items that are important to your industry or association. Don't come into a meeting with a lawmaker and overwhelm him or her with dozens of legislative concerns. Pick the most crucial items and discuss these issues in depth for maximum impact.
- Put together Lobby Day packets for your attendees, just as you would send out “welcome” kits with your association information when a new member joins your group. Your lobby packets should include the following items
- A print-out agenda outlining the activities, breaking down where and when your members should be. An easy way to itemize the day is by breaking down the activities under the headings, “In The Morning” and “In The Afternoon”.
- Talking points: bullet point your association’s policy positions in a way that makes it easy for your members to clearly convey the information to the lawmakers.
- Hand-outs to leave with elected officials with your association’s legislative priorities. Be sure that this handout includes your association’s branding and looks very official, especially if your association is small.
- Map of legislator’s office and map of city.
- A letter from the association president or executive director thanking your members for taking part in your lobby day. For other ways to recognize your members, read this blog post.
- A branded lanyard, or a branded name-tag with your association members’ names and association logo.
- Promote your Lobby Day on your social media accounts with a unique hashtag, updating your general membership on the day's outcomes and showing the public that your association is politically engaged.
- Organize a legislative reception in the evening, if your organization has the budget to do so. After a day of visiting various legislators and discussing policy, there is no better way to reinforce the importance of your association’s Lobby Day by hosting a reception and inviting key lawmakers. A Happy Hour at a restaurant or hotel is a great way to keep the conversation active, while building interpersonal relationships between your members and lawmakes.
- Consider budgetary options. If your association is lobbying at the state-level, chances are your members won’t need to fly in, and many of them will not require hotel rooms. However, if you are facilitating a Lobby Day in Washington, DC or in your state or origin and members need transportation and lodging, see if you can arrange discounts and special pricing plans with hotels. Additionally, many associations will offer transportation stipends for out-of-town members.