Educating Your New Capitol Hill Advocates

Welcome back to our ongoing series to help you advance your public policy success when conducting Washington, D.C., fly-ins with your employees and members.

Veterans of Washington, D.C., fly-ins play an important role—guiding your first-timers. Let these experienced operatives shine by taking on some type of mentoring relationship, either formal or informal. This helps your organization on two fronts. First and most obvious, it cultivates a new crop of seasoned advocates. Second—and I would argue of equal importance—you help team members enhance their reputations, thereby adding to their prestige and boosting their résumés.

No matter how green an advocate may be, make sure everyone plays a role. For instance, one member of your party may be charged with opening and closing the meeting, another with covering issue A, and a third person with discussing issue B. Never let anyone fade into the background. If someone is present, they must be present for a reason.

Dividing efforts among more than one individual also allows for better note taking during your Hill meetings. While one person is talking, the others should be writing notes. Record not only what was said. Also note nonverbal signals your representative displays. For instance, did he start going through that stack of papers on his desk when the topic turned to issue A, but refocus his attention on you when you raised Issue B? Did he frown or shake his head at a crucial point? Or did he instead smile and lean forward?

A broader type of advocacy pairing also merits mention: Coalition building. By combining efforts with like-minded groups, you can stretch your resources, both financial and human. Having more bodies means you can schedule appointments with more legislators. Having more than one organization involved allows you to soften the impact on your budget.

There may even be occasions when you find it beneficial to join forces with a habitual antagonist. Though relatively rare, libertarians and progressives, for instance, can surprise themselves by advocating for the identical cause. Witness the debate over immigration reform when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Service Employees International Union spent roughly the same amount on advertising in one quarter—on the same side of the issue.

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