How many times have we all heard the expression “do your homework?” It could not be more apropos than when describing what we need to do before we reach out to key decision-makers who have the power to give us what we want in the legislative or regulatory arena. Lawmakers who chair a committee that your bill may be assigned to or hold a legislative leadership position have a powerful role in your campaign. These key decision-makers have the ability to support and accelerate bills or stop them altogether. Walking into a lawmaker’s office without having done homework on who they are and what they care about is a lost opportunity to make a meaningful connection. You do not need to spend hours; just a few minutes online can help you find promising ‘pathways of influence’, including:
Legislative biographies and campaign bios
Finding a way to connect through these details is a positive way to have a memorable conversation with a lawmaker or their staff. You may know someone who went to the same college or both have spouses in the health care profession.
Districts or cities/towns they serve
This is a critical aspect of advocacy, as lawmakers want to hear from their own constituents on issues. In addition, knowing what issues are most pressing for the communities they serve will help you understand how to connect your campaign to their district. Mobilizing grassroots advocates or key contacts who live and vote in a lawmakers’ district is important. When setting up in-person meetings with lawmakers, try to plan group meetings with at least one constituent.
Organizations that lawmakers champion
Understanding which issues key decision makers care most about is very helpful. Knowing their motivation – whether it is education, public health, or aging populations – can help you connect your bill to their interests. This can include:
- Legislative history: The kinds of bills that lawmakers support and committees they serve on can tell you more about issues they are passionate about.
- Family life: This may include their spouses or children’s careers, their children’s schools, or what their family life was like growing up.
- Community involvement: Organizations lawmakers champion, their place of worship, and memberships they hold can give you a sense of this.
Finding a way to connect through these details is a positive way to have a memorable conversation with a lawmaker or their staff.
Click here for a helpful worksheet on how you can find ‘pathways of influence.’
Legislative process & advocacy
After your bill’s sponsor has introduced it, it is likely that the bill will be assigned to a legislative committee and a first hearing date will be scheduled. The sponsor’s staff will generally track the bill movement; you can also call the state house or city hall and just ask which committee your bill has been assigned to.
Here is a good outline (See Page 29 “II: The Basics of State and Federal Government”) of the entire legislative process from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Meeting with Lawmakers
When you go to meet with a decision-maker the first time, it is important to go in planning to learn, rather than “convince.” You want to learn as much as you possibly can during that conversation to help shape the rest of your campaign’s interactions with that decision-maker.
Make sure that someone is taking notes at every lawmaker meeting and sending them back to campaign managers to track. Those meeting notes can be really insightful and help plan next steps. Click here for a Decision-Maker Meeting Feedback Form that you can adapt for your campaign.
Your campaign might be able to bring in issue experts, provide lunch, or have celebrity supporters. This can help your bill sponsors look like heroes – and speakers and celebrities can have influence on other decision-maker attendees. There are many different people who care about body confidence – and particularly about youth – including athletes, actors, models, physicians, teen advocates, or any and all of the above. Think about who might come into the building that is going to get people to leave meetings or busy schedules to show up to listen.
Finally, when thinking about decision-maker advocacy it is important to think about how other decision-makers influence your target lawmakers. If you think about your own world and the people you listen to on a daily basis – your colleagues and friends have a lot of influence over your thinking and over your decisions. The same thing is true inside a city council or state legislature. Your champion lawmakers, the ones who have signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors, can be potential bridges to that key decision-maker who will need to give the green light for your bill to move on to the next committee or put up for a vote.
Government agencies as advocates – threading the needle
You may be working with staff at a government agency who support your position and have a valuable perspective on your proposed policy. For example, the agencies that oversee public health, education, labor discrimination, and health care may have special insight into your issue. But, as public employees, they may not be allowed to testify on behalf of your legislation. So how do you get them to go on the record? Click here for some ideas about getting staff from public agencies to go on the record.
Depending on how much time you will spend meeting with lawmakers, it is important to check with state and federal lobbying laws to make sure you do not run into violations. Nonprofits including 501(c)(3) organizations certainly can and do lobby all the time. It is both legal and permissible. Our democracy benefits when organizations with expertise and real-life experience help shape public policy. We don’t just want corporations shaping our laws. Nonprofits have a critical voice in policy change and should be doing everything they can to influence policy in ways that advance their mission.
The rules are generally pretty simple to comply with; they may include:
- Filing a registration fee
- Reporting a few times a year on the money you have spent on lobbying efforts
- The hours of lobbying efforts
- Any political contributions you have made during that time period
See additional resources here.
Putting the STRIPED Advocacy Playbook to work