On May 17, CMF held the second workshop in the four-part series for the 2013 Advocacy Leader’s Network, “Come Fly-In with Me: Best Practices for Capitol Hill Lobby Days.” The panel for the workshop was a discussion with actual practitioners who have successfully organized best practices for lobby days. The panelists who shared their strategies were: Tony Kudner, Program Manager for Grassroots Advocacy at the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO); Meredith Nethercutt, Director of Public Affairs and Grassroots Advocacy for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM); and Sarah Nordstrom, Manager of Government Affairs for Novo Nordisk.
Through their discussion of challenges and successes, six ideas emerged that other organizations can replicate for their fly-in days:
- Plan strategically. It is important for organizations to tailor their fly-in day to best meet their stated goals, and the first step is to be strategic about when to do your lobby day. For example NHPCO now holds their fly-in during the fall and winter, a time of year that better suits their needs rather than the appropriations season in the spring. Also, consider the legislative environment in which you will advocate. The NAM developed a strategy for this by choosing four broad issue areas that would most likely be major discussion points on Capitol Hill during the time of their fly-in (energy, immigration, infrastructure, and tax policy). Then, in planning sessions closer to the actual lobby day, the NAM had the flexibility to narrow down these broad issue areas to have specific asks, in this case regarding immigration. This way the NAM was able to provide timely information and specific asks when meeting on the Hill.
- Be flexible. Capitol Hill is not a controlled environment, so votes can be called at most anytime, necessitating cancellations or rescheduling of meetings, and security can challenge any group’s logistical capabilities. Knowing you are leading your organization into this sort of chaos, it is important to be flexible wherever possible. For example, the NAM developed an app function that sends notifications to participants of meeting changes the moment they happen as well as directions to each meeting place. Novo Nordisk selected a “resting place” close to Capitol Hill for participants to use as a focal point for their Hill activities.
- Have clear and creative trainings. Your participants should receive clear trainings on the issue area, talking points, logistics, and goals of your lobby day. NHPCO showed video examples of good and bad meetings; others may try role playing the meeting ahead of time. Whatever the training is, delivering clear information in a timely manner (i.e., not just giving them a massive packet of info the day before) will give participants the tools and confidence they need to ensure successful meetings.
- Keep it fresh. There are hundreds of organizations meeting on Capitol Hill each year and it is tough to stand out from the crowd. The NAM tackled this challenge with a leave-behind video of their talking points in a colorful sleeve with outlined bullet points. Making it easy and interesting for staff to access information on your issue is essential for follow-up actions.
- Use new technology appropriately. New technology and gadgets can be an exciting aspect of your fly-in activities, but just because it exists does not mean your advocacy campaign needs to use it. Assess what tech tools will most creatively and efficiently help your organization meet its goals. Do you need a live Twitter feed? Do you have time to give participants training for these tech aspects of the fly-in? Do your participants have smartphones or tablets to utilize these new ideas? Once you have established what your organization is capable of you can determine what cool tech idea to use. The most important thing is to meet your lobby day goals, not get lost in a sea of social networking mania.
- Capitalize on the fly-in motivation. Fly-ins can be essential to start new relationships on the Hill and strengthen existing ones. Lobby days are major undertakings and once they are over it is easy to wrap things up quickly, exhale and be done with it all. But, the most important thing to use from your fly-in is the momentum amongst your participants and those new (or confirmed) relationships on the Hill. NHPCO, the NAM, and Novo all had strong recommendations for follow-up activities on the Hill, such as thank you notes, immediate participant reflections, and evaluation data collection. Make the time to establish what you want to do with your lobby day motivation and what this new energy can do to your cause.
The next Advocacy Leader’s Network Workshop will be on September 20. This session will focus on “Boosting Key Contact Programs: Turning Players into Coaches.” Follow these links to learn more about the Advocacy Leader’s Network and CMF’s Partnership for a More Perfect Union.