Lobbying: How to Approach Your Local Members of Congress
Have a cause you are passionate about? Want to take action, but don't know where to begin? Communicating with your local senators and members of congress is a great first step to making a difference and is much easier than you may think.
My Experience Lobbying
Last week, I had the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. for the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life Summit—a 3-day workshop and advocacy program focusing on global healthcare. Part of the summit included an afternoon lobbying on Capitol Hill alongside fellow Utah Shot@Life Champions—Adrian, Christy, Danielly, Emily, Jenny, Kathy, and Melinda. We met with staff from two of our senators' and one of our representatives' offices as well as a House Budget Committee member. Fortunately, Shot@Life had prepped us with fact sheets, made the appointments for us, and trained a mentor who accompanied us on our visits. In other words, they greatly calmed our nerves by making our lobbying experience nearly dummy proof.
At the same time back at home, my 12-year-old son learned about a law that if passed, would greatly and negatively impact his school. Time was of the essence and he became passionate, wanting to impact change. In response to his question about what he could do to support the cause, his teachers encouraged him to make his voice known to his local representatives. So, without any preparation or hand holding whatsoever, my son researched email addresses and phone numbers and then wrote and sent letters and emails and called our local representatives directly. Armed with limited information and on a deadline, he didn't stop to think if he was doing it right or saying things correctly. He simply fought for his cause.
I had wondered while in D.C. if I would have lobbied had I not had every single aspect of my experience set up for me. Would I have researched the critical facts to share had someone not prepared a fact sheet for me? Would I have set up an appointment? Or would I have let the overwhelm or fear from the unknown push my cause to the back burner?
9 Ways to Impact Change Through Lobbying and Communicating With Your Local Members of Congress
My son's determination, confidence, and innocence reminded me how simple the process can and should be. Listening to him tell me about his experience reinforced for me how easy it is for us to make a difference wherever we are: within the walls of our own homes, in our state, or on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.
Want to impact change? Consider these nine ideas:
1. Learn the facts.
Once you know the cause you are fighting for, identify the key fact(s) relating to that issue. Keep it simple! For Shot@life, we were raising awareness about eradicating Polio. We shared two facts: 1) Only three countries are Polio endemic (down from 125 in 1988). And 2) If we don’t finish the fight right now, more than 10 million children under the age of five could be paralyzed by polio in the next 40 years.
2. Sign a petition.
3. Send a letter or an email.
If you aren't familiar with your local members of congress and state senators, do a simple google search. I typed in "How to Contact Utah Members of Congress" and it took me to this page with all of their names, titles, and contact information. Handwritten letters and emails can make all the difference when it comes time to support and vote for or against a specific cause, so be sure to speak up, even if just in written format.
4. Call your members of congress.
Your representatives want to hear from you and have staff ready to take your call. They are there to listen and to convey your message. Calling their offices and sharing the cause you are supporting, a couple of facts about why it's important, and what you want them to do to support it takes only a couple of minutes.
5. Visit their offices in your state or in D.C.
Meeting directly with your members of congress, senators, or their staff is a great way to communicate your cause while sharing your passion for it. Since the meeting will be short, remember to keep to the point, share your key facts, and communicate any short experiences that demonstrate why the cause is important to you. Most importantly, leave with an ask—a specific action you'd like them to take.
6. Follow up.
Once you have communicated with your members of congress, follow up. Send them a thank-you email or handwritten card/letter, letting them know that you appreciate their time. Then, ask them what action they have taken as a result of your communication or visit and what you can do to further impact change.
7. Engage your community online and offline to raise more awareness.
Talking to your members of congress is a great first step. Once you have done that, consider engaging your community. Think about groups you belong to: book clubs, church, parent/teacher organizations, parenting groups, social media communities, etc. Identify ways to inform members of your community, identify who may also be passionate about the cause, and plan online and/or offline events to raise awareness. Letter writing parties, charitable events, or even publishing a comment or a post in your social media channels helps.
8. Join an organization that supports your cause(s).
Don't feel the need to organize all of your efforts. Many organizations have formed around popular causes. Research online and find those you align with. Subscribe to their newsletters or join local chapters and take part in helping plan events in your community.
While a lot of good can be accomplished by performing steps 1-8, many initiatives require funding and every cent counts. Identify the causes you care about and plan an annual donation in your budget. Involve your family by having them help choose the cause(s) you will support and allowing them to pitch in to the donation. Even $20, the cost of immunizing a child for life in Africa, makes a difference.
Shot@Life Group Photo courtesy of Daniel Cima/UN Foundation.
Have you ever lobbied? What cause is important to you? How will you raise your voice in support of that cause?