Lobbying is a process that tries to influence legislators or other public officials for a specific cause. Whilst lobbying has been a common approach in developed democracies, it is also a growing strategy in young democracies. Lobbying can be categorized into direct and indirect lobbying.
Direct lobbying is when lobbyist directly communicate their views to decisions makers. In lobbying meetings, advocates have access to individuals who write, approve, or oppose legislation that impact the lives of refugees in your community, Lobbyists try to influence a legislator on the passage or defeat of a bill or proposed legislation. In comparison, indirect lobbying is when advocates try to influence the public to express particular views and/or concerns to decision makers. Lobbyists themselves do not interact face-to-face with the policymaker.
Whether you do this through a coalition or just as your organization, direct lobbying should be carefully planned. This page will provide practical advice on how to plan and engage in direct lobbying.
Relationship building activities are crucial in establishing and maintaing your relationship with policymakers. It is likely that you will have to engage in relationship building activities before you are able to arrange a meeting with a policymaker! For more information, you may refer to Relationship Building.
Planning your lobbying activities
- As you plan your lobbying efforts, ensure that your activities clearly align with your policy goals.
- In order to maximize your time and energy in lobbying, it is advisable to stay abreast of national legislation changes and the political climate toward refugees. This will help you to propose language changes to a bill that is up for review, or propose the review of a bill for the upcoming review period.
- Understand the lobbying regulations in your country and how those regulations impact your organizational status. For example, organizations in the United States can only spend a certain percentage of their income on lobbying without it impacting their tax exempt status. This may or may not apply in your environment.
Preparing your lobbying meeting
- Set up a direct lobbying meeting with your target policymaker. This can be difficult if you do not already have a relationship with the official, or those from the official’s office. In the United States, you reach out to a legislative assistant to set up a meeting. Before making phone calls or sending emails, practice a 3 – 5 minute speech about your organization and the reasons you want to speak to the policymaker. In other countries with younger democracies, it might take more effort to establish a relationship. For more information, refer to Relationship Building.
- Direct lobbying can involve information exchange between you and the legislator. Often, an official does not have the time or resources to research topics fully. These sessions can be used to educate the elected official on an aspect of refugee rights that the legislator might not know very much about.
- Develop talking points. Once you have set up your meeting with the policymaker, ensure that you and anyone who will be attending with you have copies of the same talking points. Your talking points should present very clear, relevant and attainable requests for the policymaker.
- You may wish to create a one-page document that presents information about your requests and information about your organization. If you want to provide the official with more information, you should have supporting documentation.
- Consider which of your partners may want to join the session, and which of those partners would make the policymaker most comfortable or likely to digest the information you provide. In some areas, it may help to bring a well-known, non-confrontation partner to a meeting with a policymaker.
During your lobbying meeting
- Prioritize your arguments. Focus on one or two topics rather than try to cram in as many topics as time allows. Decision makers are very busy and you might lose their attention if you are too wordy.
- Do not be put off by the policymaker’s smokescreen or long-winded answers. Bring your audience back to the point and maintain control of the meeting.
- Show openness to counterarguments and respond to them.
- If appropriate, show strengths in numbers and schedule meetings in small groups of coalition.
- Spend time developing relationships with staff.
- Dress in appropriate etiquette for a government building.