The Current

Advocacy News + Updates

IJM’s wonderful Advocacy Summit is coming up fast!  We can’t wait to have our friends from around the United States converge on Washington for advocacy training and story-telling followed by a day of meetings with members of Congress, senators and their staff in support of our cherished End Modern Slavery Initiative Act of 2015 (EMSI, #EndSlaveryAct). Many of those coming to the Advocacy Summit are experienced lobbyists, having visited their Senate and House offices many times. But for some, it will be the first time up on Capitol Hill. Either way, we want to make sure our advocates are well prepared.

I remember how I felt when I first began having advocacy meetings in 1983. I had the advantage of having worked for Congress for the previous 5 years but even so, it was a big switch to be on the other side of the table from legislative aides, representing Human Rights Watch and asking them to consider our policy recommendations. It took years before I stopped referring to Congressional aides as “us.” But having had hundreds of meetings in Congress since that time, I do have a few suggestions for those of you coming to Washington on September 21 to join our Advocacy Summit, and for those of you reading this who just might want to join us in the future!

Here are my top ten tips for lobbying:

  1. Be prompt
    It probably goes without saying, but Capitol Hill is fast-paced and legislators and their aides are very busy, especially when Congress is in session as it will be on September 22. Please factor into your schedule that the distance between House and Senate on foot is about 15 minutes. You can see the buildings from far away, but the walk takes longer than you might think! Also factor in time to get through security and metal detectors at every building.
  2. Say thank you
    Thank those you are meeting with for taking the time to receive you. You will probably have a chance in most of your meetings to say a more specific thank you! 18 Senate offices, for example, are already cosponsors of S.553. You want to be sure and thank them warmly. IJM staff are preparing specific guidance for your meetings so you’ll know if the legislator you are meeting is a cosponsor or has been a supporter of other anti-slavery legislation in the past. Many legislative aides tell me that they love it when people get back to them and thank them for taking an action they requested.  IJM makes a habit of it!
  3. Bring an umbrella
    It rains often and unexpectedly in Washington. (If you were at the Summit last year, you may remember the great deluge of 2014!) Bring one of those little folding umbrellas. It will make the world a better place on September 22.
  4. Be professional
    Official Washington is not laid back. Please wear business clothes to your meetings. Bring business cards if you have them and be considerate of time at your meeting. Even if you only have 15 minutes, you can make it count and leave a warm impression with the legislator or aide—of yourself and of IJM.
  5. Be non-political
    All of us have views on various political, social, religious and cultural matters. But at your lobby meetings on September 22, you are there to talk about one thing: modern day slavery. You might not have a single thing in common with the legislator or staff you are meeting. You might have voted against them with all your might! You might hate their views on 10 different things. But the purpose is to find common ground on fighting slavery – an issue that people across the political spectrum agree on!
  6. Don’t wing it
    We all want to be smart and knowledgeable, but if someone asks you a question you aren’t entirely comfortable answering, please take a note and ask if someone from IJM can get back to them.  You aren’t expected to be the world’s living expert on slavery or on legislation, so don’t worry if there are things about the issue or in the bill that you don’t know. Saying “I’ll get back to you,” is a great way to keep the relationship going. It gives you—or IJM staff—an opportunity to touch base again with that office, which is all to the good!
  7. Be relational
    Finding a point of connection with the person you meet is a great way to break the ice. The legislators themselves and many of their staff come from your state or district. Saying a few words about yourself and asking them something–particularly the aides—is a great way to start the meeting. The fact that you came to Washington not on behalf of yourself but on behalf of others is just plain nice. Those you meet with will appreciate it and you.
  8. Eyes on the prize
    The issue of slavery is huge and there is a lot to talk about, but be sure that once you’ve had a chance to introduce yourself, make a connection, and talk about why you care about the issue, get right to the subject of the meeting and what you are asking:  sponsorship of S.553 and its House companion bill, soon to be introduced.
  9. Use your materials
    IJM has a packet of information for you to leave at every meeting, which you’ll pick up the morning of 9/22. Don’t forget to show the person with whom you’re visiting what’s in it. Among other things are copies of the legislation and a letter endorsing it from over 400 pastors and other faith leaders! We’ll have the faith letter disaggregated by state and district. It’s a great asset for these meetings!
  10. Listen well and take notes
    The 200-plus meetings that you will be having on September 22 are an invaluable resource to IJM staff. It is hugely important that you listen well for the legislators’ or their aides’ comments about the issue and the legislation. Please fill out your lobby report forms. We read and capture every single piece of information, and we use your observations for follow up with the offices you visited.
IJM's VP of Government Relations & Advocacy gives her top ten tips on how to lobby.