When Team Way Outside the Beltwayers first debuted on PreservationNation.org, I answered "too long ago to remember" to the bio question that asked how long ago I had been recruited to represent the State of Washington at Lobby Day.
It has, in fact, been a while, and I've picked up a tip here and there over the years. This morning, in anticipation of in-district lobby month (May is just around the corner, you know?), I want to share my top ten list with you.
1 - They work for us. Representative Norm Dicks told me this many years ago. Don’t be nervous about talking to your elected officials. They work for you and they respond to you.
2 - Know your stuff. There is no substitute for competence. If you are competent, you inspire confidence. If elected are confident in your information, then you’ve just won influence.
3 - Prioritize your asks. Each state should decide what they’re asking for. We can’t ask for everything or the message will be diluted. Determine what aspects of the national agenda are most important to you and your state.
4 - Tie your ask for a national priority back to the local district. For Washington, we give information on Preserve America grants, Save America's Treasures grants, etc. Let them know what those programs are doing back home.
5 - Try to have someone from the district in the meeting as a lead. If this can’t happen, the statewide or SHPO becomes the best person to lead the conversation.
6 - Get cards for follow-up. Staffers are extremely important, and relationships built with them pay dividends.
7 - Don’t dismiss staffers because they look like they’re 12. They often recycle into more senior-level positions with the elected official, or they go on to work with other elected officials or committees. Regardless, they can help you down the road, so ask where they’re from and try to make a connection with them.
8 - Schedule a meeting with your governor’s representative or chief of staff in Washington, D.C. They can provide invaluable advice about your delegation, and it’s good to have them up to speed.
9 - Value the time you’re given. Get to the point quickly. Make the ask. Try to get the member or the staffer talking. Ask them for feedback.
10 - Understand that lobbying is theater. The guts of advocacy happen at the district and state level. Get to know your local office staffers. Invite them to events. Take them on tours. Lobby Day is meant to convey the extent of the support for historic preservation, but it's not an end in itself. The real value of Lobby Day is building state advocacy networks, getting participants familiar with national issues, and building relationships with members and their staffers. The real work always happens back home.
- Mary Thompson
Way Outside the Beltwayer Mary Thompson is a preservation consultant and a member of the National Trust’s Board of Trustees. Visit our Lobby Day 2009 website on PreservationNation.org to learn more about her recent trip to Capitol Hill.