One of the most important questions to answer before starting any grassroots lobbying campaign is “who” are you going to lobby? In pretty much every campaign there is a limited amount of time and resources available, and you want to get the most out them both. That means targeting them where they can make the most difference.
It all starts with a list. And that means some research, organization and coordination with your allies.
Use the following guidelines:
Start a Target List
Make a list of every elected official who has any bearing on the success of your effort. Such as every member of a committee that is dealing with your issue, or every member of a full legislative body (or council) if you’re preparing for a final vote on something. Make note of whatever you know about their position on the issue. If necessary, find past votes on similar issues that can help predict their behavior. Add in any general impressions from lobbyists or legislative allies you may be working with. Lastly, depending on whether legislators are up for reelection, the narrowness of their former election victories may be a factor in how they are likely to vote as well, (they all want to get re-elected!). Make note of it.
Organize the List
Next up, you need to organize the list according to the initial information that you have on each official. Some elected officials will definitely be with you, and some will definitely be against you, and – depending on your vote count – it’s not worth spending a lot of time on either group. Rate them a scale of 1 to 5: (1 = absolutely with you, 2 = leaning with you, 3 = undecided/unknown, 4 = leaning against you, 5 definitely against you). Add the numbers up to gauge how you are doing, (the lower the total the better).
Your job is to focus on the votes in the middle – the potential “swing” votes. That means focusing your lobbying time and resources on the 2’s, 3’s and 4’s.
Update and Work the List
Successful grassroots lobbying on most any issue is a constantly evolving process right up until the final vote is cast. It’s not a one-time thing where you speak up and then go home. It requires consistent follow up.
As you and your allies lobby the same target list, information will be coming from every direction if everyone is doing their job. Of course some legislators have been known to tell one thing to one group of people and something different to others, (imagine!), so targets will move up and down the scale depending on the most up-to-date intelligence. You have to keep things straight in order to gauge where you stand – and whether you might need to consider compromising if you think you will lose, or change direction and fight another day.
Consider using a notebook (or even a spreadsheet if you want to get sophisticated) with one page to keep track of each targeted official.
Key Information for Tracking Officials:
- Who made each contact with them
- When it was made
- What the official said about their position
- How it rated on the scale of 1 to 5
This will help you keep up with each official’s “evolving” position over time, and if someone needs shoring up. It will also help you get a feel for which arguments are working and which ones aren’t – and what objections need to be overcome. Remember, the argument that you might think is the most persuasive may not be the same one that actually works, (and it may be different for every elected official). Pay attention to what they say actually moves them and adjust accordingly.
Since maintaining multiple lists will only breed confusion, one person should be designated as the “List Coordinator”. All information should then be passed through them, and they should be touching base with allies on a regular basis to keep it up to date, as well as send out updates and let allies know who needs to be targeted and when. Since everyone can’t be at city hall or the state capitol all the time, it’s better to pick a list coordinator who is close to the action and who has the time, (even a lobbyist, legislative staffer or friendly legislator if they’re on your team).
As General George Patton once put it, “Information is like eggs; the fresher the better”. When it comes to lobbying, the information you gather is only as “fresh” as the degree everyone works to keep it up to date; and it’s only as useful as the degree that you actually put it to use.
Make sure that your grassroots lobbying strategy and tactics revolve around it.