"Learning to Lobby Through Fruit"

Some fourth-graders helped introduce a bill to make the strawberry into North Carolina’s official state fruit. Then the adults got involved.
— Jeremy Markovich on Away Message

Jeremy Markovich is the digital manager for Our State Magazine and the podcast host for Away Message . In his most recent podcast (4/29/19) Jeremy tells the legendary story how elementary school students ended up lobbying for and against legislation determining NC Carolina’s official state fruit.

This podcast is a great primer on how the legislative process works and the role that lobbying plays in the process. Scroll down for Tips for Conducting Successful Constituent Lobbying Meetings.

Whether you are part of an association, organization, a concerned citizen or an elementary student, knowing the etiquette of lobbying is important. Lobbying is not just for professional lobbyists. Anyone can contact their elected officials and share their opinions on why a bill should or shouldn’t be passed. Here are some tips for setting up and conducting a successful Constituent Lobbying Meeting. 

Tips for Constituent Lobby Meetings 

Legislators appreciate when constituents take time to visit them at their office. A visit to a Legislator’s office is an effective tool to discuss an important piece of legislation. Take these visits seriously and understand that the legislative office buildings are busy places. Schedules are always changing, Legislators have lots of meeting each day and most Legislators have very little staff. 

When setting a meeting, be clear on what the topic is and the association/organization/industry that you are representing. You want to ensure that the Legislative Assistant (LA) has the information needed to share with the Legislator. If your meeting gets rescheduled or the Legislator doesn’t make the meeting, be gracious. It is also important to realize that most Legislators have only one part-time staffer. LA’s are generally aware of the issues, but most are not involved in policy.  If the Legislator is not able to meet with you, explain who you are and your affiliation, then leave any informational packet or materials and take the LA’s business card or name. Remember, you are a ,guest to the office so always be polite. 

Suggestions for a successful meeting.

  1. Plan your visit
    If you are visiting with an association or organization, typically the lobby team or paid staff will schedule the meetings with the Legislators, otherwise you can call the office directly. Knowing who will be attending the meeting before you contact the office is beneficial. Keeping your group small is ideal because the offices are genuinely small, 2-5 people is a good size.

    Hint: It is important to calculate office location when scheduling the appropriate time between meetings.  

  2. Make an appointment
    When scheduling an appointment, you will need to contact the office directly and speak to the LA; sometime interns or other staff handle appointments.  Explain your purpose for the meeting and the group or industry you are affiliated with. It is easier for LA to arrange a meeting if they know what you wish to discuss and if constituents of the district will be attend the meeting. The initial appointment will need to be penciled in or tentative because the legislative schedules are constantly changing. It is important to get on the calendar 2 or 3 weeks in advance.

  3. Follow-up for appointment 
    During the week of the appointment, it is important to follow-up with the LA and verify that the meeting is on the calendar. Explain to the LA that you understand that the calendar changes and leave contact information for the people who will be leading the meeting. On the day of the meeting, expect phone calls, texts and emails adjusting schedules.

    Hint: For meetings that are canceled, explain to the LA that you will still come by to drop off information. This allows you the opportunity to follow back up with the legislator and set up a phone call.

  4. Be prepared
    Whenever possible, read the materials supporting your position beforehand and attend information meetings on the topics provided by associations or organizations. If you are not part of an organization, you should create a simple one page handout highlighting the issue. In some instances, the Legislator will lack important details concerning a particular issue. Legislators have hundreds of bills each year and do not have the capacity or staff to be knowledgeable on each bill.  Know the bill number for any legislation and know the sponsors and cosponsors of the bill. It is also important to know where each bill is in the process, has it passed the house or senate and what committee is the bill presently in.

    Hint: It is also helpful to know a little background on the Legislator: committee assignments, political party, leadership position and length of elected service. 

  5. Tell your story

    The best approach is to share with the Legislator information and examples from everyday life. Examples that clearly demonstrate the impact or benefits associated with a piece of legislation. Inform the Legislator how an issue affects you personally. Instead of reciting talking points, explain the issue using your personal experience; also be prepared to answer questions from the Legislator or staff.

    Hint: If you do not know the answer to a question, tell them you will follow back up with that information. Also, have the contact information for your association’s or organization’s lobby team that can be shared with Legislator, if needed. 

  6. Make an ask
    Outline your agenda and talking points prior to visiting with the Legislator. You need to signal early in the meeting that you have a specific issue to discuss. Close the meeting with a direct request. I am here today encouraging you to vote for/against bill #123 or I hope you will consider supporting the further funding of xyz program.

    Hint: Offer to serve as a local resource and extend an invitation for a visit in the District in the near future. 

  7. Follow up

    Collect the business cards of all of the staff that you interact with on your visit. Within a reasonable time, email each staff member individually with a personal note complimenting them and thanking them for their time and professionalism. Include in the email a quick summary of the talking points as a refresher for the meeting. If you dropped off information, you should email the Legislator’s office mentioning the person you left the information with and attach another copy of the materials to the email requesting a phone call with the Legislator.

    Hint: Write a hand written Thank You Note to the elected official and mention the name of the staffer you met with in the letter, complementing the staffer’s work.

If you are interested in learning more about a local advocacy strategy that will strengthen your organization or if you not part of an association and need assistance in local advocacy - we should find time for a cup of coffee and a conversation. Email us at Contact@CLTPR.com

B Holladay