Stan Bowman
Photo courtesy Stan Bowman
Stan Bowman

Want to be a real participant in this business called democracy—lobby on an issue that matters to you! Not only will you help bring about positive change, you also will get more satisfaction out of advocacy than you ever imagined. Like anything else, the more you know about how to lobby, the better you will be. It’s not as hard as it sounds; in fact, if you can make a phone call or write a letter, you can lobby. With a few guidelines you can effectively lobby anything.

1. Know Your Issue
The most important thing lobbyists need to know is their subject. What is the substance of the legislation you are proposing (or opposing)? Why is it so important? What will happen if it passes? What will happen if it does not pass? How much will it cost?

2. Know About Your Legislator
What is their background? What is their record of support? What positions do they hold in the legislature? Who is the chair of the committee that will consider your proposal? Legislator information is available to the public, usually via the Web.

3. Use Common Sense
The minimum principles are these: be brief; be clear; be accurate; be persuasive; be timely; be persistent; be grateful. The only one that’s a bit difficult for the beginner is timing. Until you’ve become an expert in your own right, call on an organization that advocates the issue and ask about timing.

4. Don’t Make Promises
Never promise reward for good behavior or threaten retribution for failure to support you. Be persuasive rather than argumentative or demanding. Don’t knock the opposition; they probably believe in their position as sincerely as you believe in yours.

5. Be Brief
In writing and in person—be brief. Make an appointment, be on time, state your case, and leave. Plan to cover your topic in five minutes if possible, ten minutes at the most. Don’t linger unless your legislator chooses to prolong the meeting.

6. You are the expert
In many cases, you may find that you know more about the topic than the legislator or staff.  Elected officials and their staff tend to be generalists. They handle a wide-range of complex subjects and can't be experts in everything. That's where you come in. If they like and trust you, they will rely on your advice and knowledge. If you get hit with any questions you can’t answer, admit it and provide the answers later. Don’t bluff. It always shows.

7. Aides Are Influential
Even if you had an appointment, you may be referred to an assistant. Don’t be offended. The demands on legislators’ time are unbelievable and they cannot avoid last minute changes. Never underestimate the importance of an aide. Treat them just as you would a legislator because the aide is in a position to advance your cause or sink it without a trace.

8. Say Thank You
When you get back home, or after you’ve talked with your legislator by phone, send a thank-you letter or email. The vast majority of all mail a legislator gets is either asking for personal favors or complaining. A thank-you letter really scores.

9. Following Up Is Vital
Many legislative offices will ignore your first request for a specific action because they have so many people asking for so many things. The way to demonstrate that your issue is important is to ask again. By asking again, you demonstrate that you really are serious, and you'll keep asking until you get an answer!