Wednesday, November 03, 2010

5 Ways to to Make Your Lobby Meeting Successful

Bookmark and ShareOne of the strategies I employ in getting across an organization's message is coordinating meetings with legislators.  Meeting with a Member of Parliament, a Senator, or even a Cabinet Minister (often considered the "holy grail") is often one of those services most sought.  But organizing a meeting and making certain it produces a positive experience involves more than just asking for an appointment.  When I coordinate a meeting with MPs or Senators, here are some of the methods and recommendations left for clients:

1.    Plan for your meeting to last 20 minutes or so. Bring the following materials to the meeting:
•    Your contact info
•    One-pager info sheet on the issue you advocating
•    One-pager on your asks
•    Copy of the bill or regulation you are seeking to amend, as appropriate
•    Photos of events, letters from constituents, articles from local media, and any other items that demonstrate the popularity or sense of the issue you are pushing

2.    At the meeting, introduce, and show why your issue is important in your community
•    When you introduce yourself, say that you are a constituent.  If you are not a constituent, it might be best to demonstrate how you relate to their region and the impact your issue will have on the legislator’s constituents.  Explain why your issue is important to you.
•    Show that you’re there representing many voters. Describe the group you represent as specifically as possible, including number of members. Include specific evidence that your proposal is important to many constituents. Provide photos from any recent events you’ve held. Give them copies of articles or op-eds about your issue from your local paper

3.    Thank the Member of Parliament or Senator for taking the meeting
•    Be sure to start off by thanking the elected official for any actions s/he has previously taken on your issue. This is important because it lets them know that their constituents are keeping an eye on their record.
•    Make sure you know which committees they sit on or other leadership positions s/he holds.  This will help you frame your asks in a way that appeals to his/her interests
•    …By the way…make sure to acknowledge and thank the efforts of the legislators staff, in particular the scheduling assistant and political staff.  They may not have the votes you need but they have the legislator’s assistants are the one’s that have an MP/ Senator’s ear

4.    What if they have questions or concerns?
•    If they seem hesitant to support what you’re asking for, ask them directly what you can do to make this easier for them – do they need more information? More evidence that this is important to voters? Then, after the meeting, send them that info.
•    They may try to get off topic by taking about other issues and accomplishments. Listen politely, thank them, and then get back on track. You can say something like, “That’s great. I hope that you can further demonstrate your commitment to constituents by voting for this upcoming legislation.”
•    If you’re asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, say, “I don’t have that information now, but I can get it to you.” Then be sure to send it to them after the meeting.
•    Remember to listen. While you always want to steer the conversation back to your asks, listening to their concerns and priorities will help you meet them so they’re more likely to want to work with you.

5.    Follow up, follow up, follow up. The lobby meeting is only the beginning. The most important part is the follow-up that you do afterwards
•    Leave with a clear understanding of what the their position is and what s/he will do. At the end of the meeting, schedule a good date and time when you can call to follow up. This way, you can ensure that they’ve done what you asked.
•    Leave your contact info, and be sure to get their contact info too.
•    Send an email afterwards thanking him/her for the meeting, providing him/her with any materials you promised, and politely reminding him/her of the time for your phone call.
•    If you met with a staffer, call the staffer at the time you scheduled. If s/he has done what you asked, thank him or her. Tell him/her that you will let the grassroots activists you’re in touch with know about his/her actions. If s/he has not done what you asked, ask what you can do to make this happen
•    Keep calling in the future. Provide him/her with information about key legislation, what’s happening, and what constituents are doing about your issues in the constituency. If you’ve established a relationship with this office, and they know they can count on you as a reliable source of information, they’ll be that much more likely to listen to you in the future.

So, what's been your experience?  What works best for you in meeting with legislators?  If you need help building bridges on Parliament Hill, drop me a line.

Mark Buzan is Principal of Action Strategies, a GR Consultancy for non-profits. If you have questions on how you feel your organization could benefit from legislative monitoring services or even undertaking a grassroots advocacy initiative. Subscribe now to his Lobbying tips newsletter at www.actionstrategies.ca

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