As government affairs and policy leaders at associations and nonprofits know, getting constituents in front of federal lawmakers can be powerful. Many organizations plan a day for their supporters and members to travel to Capitol Hill in Washington to meet with lawmakers in person, often referred to as “Hill Day.” But sometimes in the months after the event, organizations struggle to attach a return on their investment, and wonder why they’re not seeing more value from an event that is supposed to have a strong effect on their advocacy efforts.
For our most recent webinar, we sat down with two association leaders who’ve organized and led many Hill Days. We deep-dived with them into how they plan a Hill Day, and asked them for the pro tips they’ve picked up along the way from their most successful Hill Days.
Here’s how Andrea Arroyo, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at Georgia Charter Schools Association and Tiffany N. Adams, Former Vice President of Public Affairs at National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and President of T. Adams Consulting get the full value out of a Hill Day. Hint: it involves extensive planning and preparation.
Build a steering committee
The first thing Tiffany Adams does when planning a Hill day is to build a team of external and internal advisors. Getting all of the stakeholders aligned months in advance of the event can go a long way—whether that’s the graphic designer, the marketing team, or the policy analysts. Cross-organizational buy-in is crucial. But just having a committee isn’t enough. Andrea Arroyo advises, “Be clear with people about what their roles are responsibilities are so everyone knows what they are contributing.” Define goals and metrics for success, and construct an agenda while incorporating learnings from previous events.
Choose your legislative issues wisely
“In a perfect world, the day your folks are flying in, there would be legislation on the floor being debated and hopefully voted on, but that doesn’t always happen. So you have to take a look with your policy team at what issues are going to be relevant and timely,” Tiffany says. If an issue isn’t on the current Congress’s legislative agenda, it might not be your best play for Hill Day this year. In addition to the issue being relevant and timely to Congress, it needs to be of value to your members, you need to have advocates with strong stories relating to it.
Keep the talking points simple
Don’t give your advocates a stack of pages to review. Have three to five talking points that your members are going to be able to grasp and communicate back to members of Congress. The most important part of Hill Day is having members there who can effectively tell their stories. If you’re addressing a highly technical issue, you’ll need to put extra care into boiling it down so that your advocates feel comfortable discussing it.
Create multiple touchpoints for coaching your advocates
In addition to sending your advocates written materials with three to five talking points, give them opportunities to talk to your policy experts directly. Tiffany said that at NAM, she would schedule between three and five “pre-calls” with policy experts in advance of Hill Day, so that advocates could find a time that worked within their schedules to get more comfortable discussing the policy issue. This gives you an opportunity to find out what questions your advocates have about the issue well in advance of the event. Spend the rest of the time preparing your advocates to talk about how the legislation affects them.
What to do after you’ve prepped
Want to know how Andrea and Tiffany maximize impact on-site, maintain momentum after the event, and engage advocates who can’t attend? Download the full webinar on-demand here.
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