How to Lobby
doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change
the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret
What is lobbying?
For many non-profit organisations, "lobbying" has negative
connotations or provokes anxiety. Some people are afraid to reach
out to decision-makers because they seem distant, and sometimes
organisations avoid lobbying altogether.
Lobbying simply means encouraging the adoption, defeat, or modification
of laws or policies - at the local, national or even international
level. Lobbying involves giving views and information to decision-makers
in order to influence them toward the action you want, which
means contacting officials who make the laws and policies, communicating
desires and opinions, challenging the arguments of opponents,
and demonstrating wide support for an issue.
Who can lobby?
Anyone can lobby. You don't have to be a representative of a
specific organisation. Even a citizen acting out of personal
interest can call, write, or meet with decision-makers to give
views and information on a particular issue or law. Remember
however that certain non-governmental organisations are not permitted
to lobby, so you must first check the particular position with
your board or funding bodies. Even if your organisation is not
permitted to "lobby", you may be able to "attempt
to influence" law-makers - which often involves similar
1. How to
3. Working through a lobby group
--> Focus on one
issue: choose one specific issue of interest to you and focus
your lobbying efforts on that issue.
--> Research & support your issue. It is not enough to
have strong views on a subject; you must support your views with
accurate, up-to-date information from respected sources (publications,
studies, statistics, case studies & witnessing, best models
etc.). Be absolutely accurate. Prepare the facts about the impact
of the problems you're discussing.
--> Define and articulate what you want, including specific
recommendations for change or action. Provide exact language
for any proposals you want a decision-maker to support. Provide
alternative recommendations, as a basis for negotiation. Obtain
outside help from experts if necessary (lawyers / doctors / specialist
--> Prepare a short oral presentation (5-10 minutes). Be ready
to present clearly and in a logical order. Remember: decision-makers
may have no detailed knowledge of your issue.
--> Let the truth speak for itself. Don't exaggerate problems.
--> Create a clear strategy for approaches. Who: individual
/ national or regional group / delegation / minister or ministry?
How: written / personal / telephone / formal / informal / group
meetings / individual meetings? Where: local / national / regional
--> Know the decision-making processes that apply this
might be a local council, or a national parliament, or an international
body. This will help you to track the progress of bills, to make
sure lobbying efforts coincide with key points in the process,
and to avoid wasting time and energy on issues that are "dead".
--> Know the decision-makers and identify who you want to
approach. Find out who will help you or oppose you by researching
the media, or asking organisations and other individuals. Don't
focus on a single target.
--> As well as concentrating on those who oppose you, make
sure you also approach decision-makers who support your position,
as decision-makers also lobby each other.
--> Find out each decision-maker's position on the issue you
are concerned about. If you aren't sure, research the press or
other media, ask community groups or other interested organisations.
--> Be up-to-date regarding the issues that you are trying
to influence, and keep track of proposed legislation / votes
/ meetings that will affect your issues. An e-mail alert service
--> Know when to lobby. Decision-making processes often continue
throughout the year. Timing your lobbying efforts to have the
greatest impact is important, particularly if you have limited
time and resources. Knowing deadlines in advance gives you time
to contact decision-makers before actions are taken.
--> Keep track of informal decision-making processes. Much
of the formal decision-making takes place in committees or other
informal meetings. You need to know when such meetings will take
place and what will be discussed. Many informal meetings are
open to the public, and can an excellent opportunity for you
to present your views and information to decision-makers, but
remember there are often procedural rules for making presentations.
--> Follow formal processes directly. If an informal meeting
approves a decision, it still may have difficulties. An issue
you support may be amended during formal proceedings, so it's
important to follow all formal processes in person, and be prepared
to intervene where possible.
--> Discover as much as you can about the decision-makers
you intend to approach. Be aware of decision-makers' existing
alliances and partnerships, what particular interest groups influence
them, their weaknesses and their opponents. Research their voting
records, and their past positions, and remember to congratulate
them for any efforts they have already made in support of your
cause, as some decision-makers often have the incorrect assumption
that civil society representatives and NGOs are only negative
in their approach.
2. Contacting law-makers
When you are ready to enter the most important stage of lobbying
contacting decision-makers there are three options:
talking in person, calling on the telephone, or writing. All
three can be effective. The method or methods you choose will
depend on the time and resources you have available.
are probably the most effective form of lobbying. However, gaining
access to decision-makers can be difficult. Make an appointment
where possible, but even without an appointment, you may still
be able to meet with decision-makers at key meetings or formal
sessions. You can use this opportunity to introduce yourself
to decision-makers and ask if they have a few minutes to talk
to you. Whenever you meet in person:
--> Be on time!
--> Identify yourself, the organisation you represent and
the issue you're interested in, and briefly explain your position.
Be friendly and well prepared.
--> Thank him or her for taking the time to see you. Stay
polite and never make threats.
--> Don't be disappointed if your appointment is with another
person. Decision-makers are often busy and staff members will
pass on the information they receive to their superiors. By developing
a good relationship with a staff member, you can open an important
"line of communication" to that office.
-->Present a clear message. If you are with a number of fellow
lobbyists, choose one person to speak for your group. Get your
point across in the fewest possible words.
--> Tell the decision-maker what action you'd like taken and
--> State the effects you think your position will have and
why the decision-maker should support your position.
--> Use facts to support your arguments and leave supporting
documents whenever possible.
--> Be prepared for questions or challenges. If you don't
know the answer to a question, don't be afraid to admit it. Say
you will research the matter and report back.
--> Be prepared to negotiate or compromise, where possible.
--> Be prepared for rejection. If you efforts are rejected,
try dividing the issue into sub-issues and approach decision-makers
with these different components. Establish clearly who accepts
what issues, and be prepared to change your objectives or to
go a step higher or lower within a decision-making hierarchy.
--> Be a good listener. Give the decision-maker or staff member
a chance to express his/her point of view.
--> Give special recognition to decision-makers who you know
are on your side. Ask them for advice and help in reaching other
decision-makers, and suggestions for ways to communicate the
issue to their colleagues.
--> Establish that they understand clearly your objectives.
--> Ask for firm commitments for action from decision-makers:
What will they do? When?
--> If a decision-maker or staff member expresses opposition
to your viewpoint, stay friendly so you will have access to them
in the future.
When time is limited
or travel impractical, you may need to contact legislators by
telephone. Many of the points referred to above in relation to
meetings apply here, but when contacting a decision-maker by
telephone, it's especially important to be brief, polite, and
well prepared. The legislator may not have much time to talk,
and your call will likely be one of many the legislator receives
that day. State your issue in a way that leaves a positive impression.
--> If you have
only a minimum of time and resources available for lobbying,
writing letters may be the only practical way for you to contact
legislators. Lobbying by mail can be effective, as it allows
you to organise your views and information in a form that legislators
can keep and refer to later.
--> Be concise and clear. State the specific issue you are
concerned about, why you support or oppose it, and what action
you would like the decision-maker to take. Don't include unnecessary
or unrelated information. Be polite. Introduce yourself, present
your arguments in a respectful manner, and thank the decision-maker
for his or her time. Include your return address and telephone
number so that s/he can respond to your letter. E-mail or fax
is nearly as effective as ordinary mail and more effective than
a phone call.
--> Avoid petitions because decision-makers understand how
easy it is for people to sign them without really understanding
3. Working through a lobby group
Whatever the issue
you're lobbying, you are probably not alone. If you look, you
will find other individuals and groups who share your position
and may be able to help you in your lobbying efforts.
A very effective method of lobbying is through collective action
that is, to create a network, coalition, or caucus, and
work through this group. This will allow you to share information
and expertise, and will provide moral and practical strength.
--> Build a cross-sectional support network that is,
look at other groups that may not be specifically concerned with
your issue, but whose mandate may support it. This allows you
to broaden your contacts and influence.
--> Formalise your group give it a name (caucus / collective
/ network etc.) and have an established contact person.
--> Establish agreement regarding your position and recommendations.
--> Establish effective ways of group communication (e-mail
or other distribution lists, list-serves, web-page etc.)
--> Decide which members of your group will undertake lobbying,
and divide lobbying according to their capabilities (for example:
language / culture / national / region / expertise / specific
contacts & experience).
--> Keep track of all lobbying activity & distribute up-dates
to members of the group. Who is doing what? When were certain
actions taken? How was it done? What were the results? What are
the next steps to be taken?
--> Send a thank-you
letter after any visit or telephone contact. Restate your case
briefly and provide any information you may have promised during
your meeting. This gives you a second chance to make your point.
--> Make sure decision-makers are keeping to any commitments
they have made.
--> If you have been unable to obtain commitment or support,
follow-up later policies and personalities can change!
--> Make sure you have long-term follow-up are laws
/ policies / commitments being properly implemented? Remember
there is a difference between policy and practice!
--> Analyse your lobbying efforts - your successes, your disappointments
and what you have learnt. Share your findings with members of
your group and with others.
--> Decision-makers and elected
officials do pay attention to the opinions of those who elect
them. They need you too!
--> Everyone knows somebody. Ask around for ideas. When you
find someone to help, ask him or her to recommend others.
--> Use the media. Even at a small council meeting will be
members of the local press, and any issues you raise can lead
to press coverage. If you have a favourable result or decision,
inform your local or national media.
--> The key to successful lobbying is "building a wave".
Use each little victory as ammunition for the next battle. Build
layers of support and create a positive domino effect. -->
Even if you don't achieve your goals, lobbying gives you the
satisfaction of putting your beliefs into action and playing
an important role in the decision-making process.
-->You will need courage, persistence & faith but
you do have the power to change!
Written for UNITED by PRI (www.penalreform.org)
for Intercultural Action
European network against nationalism, racism, fascism
and in support of migrants and refugees
413, NL-1000 AK Amsterdam, Netherlands
phone +31-20-6834778, fax +31-20-6834582