Nonprofit 411: Tips for Lobbying your Legislators

By Stefanie Coxe, Principal, Nexus Werx LLC

Most non-profit leaders I train to lobby feel overwhelmed at the prospect of asking their lawmakers to secure a budget earmark or to advocate for legislation that would benefit their organization. There’s a lot of relationship-building and other work to do ahead of meeting with them, but if you’re already well-known to your state representative and state senator, this is the Anatomy of the Ask:

First, do your homework. Is your representative the lead sponsor of the line-item you’re pushing? Is she on the record in the newspaper opposing the bill you’re meeting on? Make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself by unexpectedly meeting with the opposition or embarrassing yourself by asking her to support something she’s a well-known champion of.

Next, get on their schedule. During the budget and other busy times, State Legislators will generally be in “the building” (the State House) Tues-Thursday and in-district Monday and Friday. Call to confirm the meeting and, for pity’s sake, if you’re running late, call and let them know. (They, on the other hand have de facto permission to be as late as they want.) Don’t be afraid to meet with an aide if they cancel last minute (it happens all the time). They can be your biggest advocates!

Have your swag ready to go. In politics, we call this a “one pager.” And I do mean one. Politicians and their aides get mountains of requests and usually don’t have the time or manpower to read through long reports. Trust me, if they want more, they’ll ask for it. Things to include:

  • Program name, line-item/bill number
  • If you’re asking them to co-sponsor something, don’t forget to name the lead sponsor (and their aide, and the amendment number)! And while you’re at it, include your name and contact info!
  • Bill/funding history of your ask
  • Information about who and how many people who will be impacted (preferably people in their district), how it will work, and a little more meat on the bones. Still one page front and back, though.

Perfect your elevator speech. If your legislator doesn’t understand what you want in less than five minutes, chances are your request isn’t going far. Keep it high level. Tell them what the program/bill is, what problem it’s fixing (or what gain it’s creating), why it’s important to his/her district, and if it’s funding, how it will be sustained. After you’ve done that you can engage in a back and forth discussing the granular details.

Finally, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. A week or two after your meeting, make a pleasant call to their aide asking if their boss has had a chance to consider your request or take action they promised in the meeting.

If they agree to help, thank them. Thank their aide. Thank them publicly, if possible. Thank them, because it’s a thankless job and everyone appreciates being valued.

For more information, visit: http://www.nexuswerx.com/learn-to-lobby.html