Become a Better Lobbyist: 10 Steps

With the 2017 National Chiropractic Leadership Conference (NCLC) fast approaching, excitement is growing among doctors and students alike for the opportunity to deliver a positive vision for the chiropractic profession and its natural approach to health and wellness directly to Congress on Thursday, March 16, during NCLC 2017 Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill.

Your visits with members of Congress are a critical component of NCLC, providing the greatest opportunity for you to be heard on the Hill and to advance the profession’s legislative goals. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) encourages full participation among NCLC attendees; we are hoping for meetings with each of the 435 U.S. representatives and 100 U.S. senators.

Whether you are a novice or a veteran of grassroots advocacy, a review of the best practices of lobbying your legislator can be helpful. Following are 10 quick tips to make the most of your time and efforts on the Hill.

  1. Arrange your appointment by sending a meeting request via fax or email to the scheduler. Include the date and time of day you would like to meet with the congressman–offering to meet with staff if he or she is not available. Include the name of the legislation or issue you would like to discuss. Provide a phone number and/or e-mail address where the scheduler can reach you and follow up with a phone call in one week if you have not heard back from the office. Remember, members of Congress are more likely to meet with a voting constituent than someone from outside their district.
  2. Prepare your “plan of attack” by knowing what you want to achieve during your meeting. If you are going as a group, plan who will speak first. Choose a lead speaker, ideally someone with more experience or a relevant connection to the issue being discussed; afterward, other attendees should provide brief supporting input. Having one person take notes throughout the meeting helps ensure quality follow-up. As congressional offices are often cramped, don’t arrive early and en masse. If you arrive five minutes prior to your meeting and have one person announce your group, the process will be smoother.
  3. Conducting pre-meeting background work is helpful. Familiarize yourself with ACA’s issue briefs prior to the meeting. Learn whether the congressman has been supportive in the past or whether he serves in leadership or on a committee important to your issues. Also helpful is to be familiar with arguments against your position, as you may be asked questions about them.
  4. Schedules for members of Congress and their staff are tight; you will likely have only about 15 minutes to meet, so describe the issue briefly and get to the point within the first 10 minutes. Give personal examples explaining why the issue is important to you. Have a specific request, i.e., “Will you co-sponsor this bill?” Let the congressman or his staff know you will be following up to see if he acted on any commitments made during the meeting.
  5. Actively participate throughout the meeting. If you are not speaking about the issue during the meeting, listen carefully to determine if the congressman supports you. Note comments made during the meeting by the member or his staff. Write down and follow up on any requests made of you during the meeting. And importantly, be respectful and courteous throughout, and do not argue with the congressman or his staff.
  6. Be prepared to answer tough questions. Difficult questions indicate interest in the conversation, and that you are being heard, so don’t become deterred by them. Nor should you be discouraged if you don’t know the answer to a question. Simply reply you don’t know the answer and promise to follow up at a later date with the requested information, which also allows for continued engagement with the office.
  7. Members of Congress and their staff are proud of their issue expertise and generally want to be helpful, doing what’s best for people affected by their work. So, ask for help and advice – should anyone else be contacted regarding your issue; what else can be done? It will help get them engaged in your issue and create “ownership” on their part, dramatically furthering your chance of success.
  8. Congressmen and their staff are bombarded by people complaining about their performance in office, which in a meeting is absolutely detrimental to any cause. Even if the person you meet with is opposed to your position, it’s best to remain upbeat and polite. Emphasize the positive aspects of your issues and refrain from criticizing other members of Congress and their staff. Also, always end the meeting by thanking the congressman for his support (if appropriate) and time.
  9. Effective advocacy requires ongoing engagement, so be sure to follow-up. After your visit, immediately send a thank-you letter to the congressman; or if the meeting was with a staff member, send an email, acknowledging the time taken to meet with you. Give staff a fair share of the credit and thanks for the meeting and include any follow-up answers you promised during your visit. It is helpful to collect business cards so you can correct name spellings and addresses for follow-up letters. Once two weeks to a month has passed, send another communication to the office either thanking them for their support if they act on your request, or, if they have not done so, inquiring whether they intend to. ACAs government relations team will gladly provide you with a template for these letters if you would like one.
  10. Providing feedback to your professional lobbyists is critical, as one of the qualities distinguishing strong advocacy efforts is close coordination between grassroots advocates and professional advocates. After meeting with a legislator or staff person, it is essential that you provide feedback on the outcome of the meeting to ACA. Debriefing forms will be made available for you to supply any relevant information from your meeting, which ACAs government relations team will use to follow-up on resulting action items.

While ACA would like to have all members participate during NCLC Advocacy Day, this is simply not possible. However, you can still support ACAs legislative efforts during NCLC by visiting ACAs online Legislative Action Center, where information regarding the issues discussed during Advocacy Day will be available, along with instructions on how to contact your congressman and give full voice to the profession on this important day.

Jack Dusik is senior director of federal government relations at the American Chiropractic Association.