More than 100 new members of Congress took office last month, and just about every advocacy organization in Washington are lining up to meet them. Congressional schedules will be full for the foreseeable future.
How can your organization command the attention of lawmakers brand new to Washington?
Our latest webinar, How to Get the Attention of the New Congress, took on that very question, laying out strategies and tactics that can help your message resonate. Sam Morgante, a deputy chief of staff in the House who has served in three freshman offices, and Dorian Wanzer, senior manager for grassroots advocacy at the American Institute of Architects, explained some of the things that work best.
Answer the Question: W.I.I.F.F.?
It’s a simple question: what’s in it for me? Every member of Congress and their staff will want to know why your position is relevant to their constituents. Be prepared to communicate the impact in the district and the precise action item that you are requesting.
It may sound simple, but communicating this information clearly and concisely is vital. Requests such as “support this program” or “oppose this initiative” are too vague. Lawmakers prefer specific actions they can take, backed by solid reasoning that is rooted in benefits to their constituents.
“Members are sent here … to represent their districts,” Morgante said. “It’s vital to know what the impact is on their constituents. Every memo that we send the Congresswoman about a legislative action, whether that is co-sponsoring a bill, co-signing a letter or a vote that she is going to be taking on the floor, we need to tell her what the impact is on her constituents.”
Stating this directly helps your cause, because effective points of contact are brief and all Capitol Hill meetings are short.
Be Targeted and Relevant
Effective advocacy is directed to the right place at the right time. Knowing which House and Senate committees are relevant and targeting members on those committees with a specific ask is a strong foundation to get results.
But the timing must also be taken into account. The right request at the wrong time can stall your drive. Taking advantage of news events, for example, is an effective way to enhance the relevance of your argument. For example, if you are going to ask lawmakers to support your position on border security, doing so at a time when border security is in the news is a better strategy than doing so when Congress is focused elsewhere.
Similarly, paying attention to the schedule in Congress is vital, because you need to know when lawmakers are in session and, equally important, when they are back in their districts.
“During a recess, that’s a great time to have an industry meeting, that’s a great time to see somebody at home, maybe at a town hall, or invite a member to your affiliate,” Wanzer said.
As she put it, “You definitely want to be on top of the Congressional calendar.”
Show Organizational Strength
Showing the strength of your organization, both in numbers and expertise, is important. Advocating in person and using digital tools are two strategies that complement one another to further that goal.
There is no substitute for facetime when it comes to educating lawmakers and staff on your organization and your issues. In-person meetings explain your position in ways that other forms of contact cannot. If nothing else, they allow you to answer questions.
“We definitely draw on the strength of our members … we look at them to be influencers,” Wanzer said.
Wanzer explained that choosing the right advocates is essential, but it is also important to arm them with the right information. Providing online resources and training webinars, for example, harness digital tools to make in-person communication more effective
As she described it, “We are educating them and providing them resources to be able to effectively communicate our policy positions.”
To catch the full discussion with more strategies for getting the attention of the new Congress, access the recording here.
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