The Washington D.C. fly-in is a time-honored tradition for many organizations. That’s why I’ve produced a brief video on how to navigate these important business meetings.
The cold, hard fact is if your members look bad because they are unprepared during their Hill visits, your job security could be in jeopardy.
How can you help your grassroots advocates look good while helping your organization reach its public policy objectives? It is essential that your activists be prepared with a sound message and solid communications skills. They deserve better than merely a map of Capitol Hill and a pat on the back before matching wits with members of Congress.
When preparing my clients to climb Capitol Hill, I like to explain to them that the House and Senate office buildings are just that—office buildings. Much like the ones they probably work in every day. Sure, they are on a grander scale and feature much more marble. But, in essence, they are merely office buildings that you and I and our fellow taxpayers own. This perspective helps remove some of the intimidation factor.
Now let’s talk about what your preparations for climbing the hill should look like. It’s always a good idea to organize a training session the day before your round of visits. This helps accomplish three things:
- It alerts your members or employees to the message they are expected to deliver. You may deal with food, forests, financial services—any issue under the sun. Regardless of your area of concern, you must frame it in a fashion that makes it easily digestible for members of Congress. These are busy people who are not likely to be experts on matters you take for granted. So spell it out for them in plain terms. Don’t make them work to grasp why you are there and what you want. And tell your grassroots advocates to always—always—ask directly for what they want. It may be support or opposition to a specific piece of legislation, sponsorship of a bill, or a statement expressing support for your position. And once you ask, wait…for…a response. Your representative may not commit to anything concrete, but you do need to hear where she stands.
- It provides pointers on what to expect when meeting members of Congress and their staffs. For example, most visits are very brief. Your advocates must practice what they want to say if their 15-minute scheduled visit with their senator suddenly turns into a 15-second walk from her office to the elevator. During rehearsal workshops, I like to include videotaped exercises to advance learning more quickly and effectively when working with organizations preparing for Hill visits. Also, never neglect the importance of Congressional staff. These people, though often young, hold the keys to the kingdom. They are the ones who control access to the member and help shape his stance.
- It offers an understanding that this visit to Capitol Hill is all about building relationships—relationships with members of Congress and their staffs both in Washington and back home. As experts well know, a single day in Washington, D.C. will not get the job done. Your organization’s success on the public policy front depends upon a commitment from your members and workers to engage their senators and representatives on a sustained basis. This means your spokespeople need an understanding of how they can leverage their hard work on Capitol Hill into grassroots victories upon their return home.
The Washington D.C. fly-in is a time-honored tradition. There is much at stake. Your members and employees can help you win—or lose—on Capitol Hill. Prepare them with a magnetic message, insights into what they can expect, and the tools to sustain a relationship with their members of Congress.