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10 - Lobbying: An Advocacy Tool

Lobbying: A working definition

Lobbying organizations or coalitions urge decision makers to take a specific action e.g., cast a vote, adopt a regulation, write an editorial. They work to build relationships that provide access to decision makers and to determine what pressures or acknowledgment of agreement must be communicated to the membership and the public.

Those who lobby serve as a resource to provide accurate information. They can serve as a bridge and connector to other decision makers or organizations and coalitions, including the opposition. To members and allies those who lobby can help people understand the formal and informal parts of the policy system.

Effective social justice lobbyists:

  • Know that there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies in decision-making bodies.
  • Know the informal and formal processes, including the procedures of the institutions in which the lobbyist relates.
  • Identify strong supporters in elected bodies for the organization’s objectives.
  • Appreciate their own limits—lobbyists on social justice matters rarely influence votes.
  • Stay true to principles and be flexible on details of timing and scope.
  • Establish themselves as credible information sources to gain authority and access.
  • Always network.
  • Make obscure procedures and practices of legislative bodies and government understandable to the people affected by government’s decisions.
  • Listen to others including the opposition to identify possible openings.
  • Appreciate the unpredictable. A good idea or proposal sometimes gains support in unexpected ways.
  • Share credit for victories.

Keep the following in mind when preparing your presentation for a lobbying visit with an elected or appointed official or a bureaucrat:

  • Do your homework. Know how to open the meeting as positively as possible. Know how to introduce each person.
  • Focus on one issue.
  • Know what you want to ask the decision maker. Make it specific.
  • Keep your presentation short and focused.
  • Know what is negotiable and what is not negotiable.
  • Help the decision maker with information and support.
  • Everyone is needed. Each person on the visit should have a role.
  • Leave the decision maker with some piece of paper, but give it to s/he after the oral presentation is made

How to Lobby?

Note: 1)

Policymakers are usually busy people who are bombarded with ideas, opinions and recommendations, both good and bad, all the time. The bus, as they say, is crowded with people like you who are trying to make an impact so you need to be particularly focused and clear in your communication, as well as determine to be heard and understood.

A large part of effective advocacy depends on the relationships advocates develop with decision-makers, influential leaders and other key audiences. The stronger the ties of trust, mutual support and credibility between the advocate and the audience, the more effective the advocate will be. Before you begin to lobby, however, it is useful to keep the following steps in mind: Prepare your Plan of Action

  • Build a strong case for proposed change
  • Identify precise policies which need changing
  • Contact like-minded organizations for potential collaboration and support;
  • Formulate the proposal and request a meeting with targeted individual.

Prepare a strategy to get yourself and your issue heard

  • Locate crucial person (call her/him A) and the people who influence A
  • Locate key officials who are sympathetic to your proposal and try it out on them, seeking guidance on how best to influence A
  • Seek advice from influential people on how to influence A
  • Invite influential officers to visit your organization to familiarize themselves with your work
  • Use the media to create a favorable climate for your proposal
  • Create a contingency plan if your proposal is rejected: for example persuading the person above A to get them to reconsider the proposal, or waiting until the staff member has moved on and try again with their replacement.

Follow through if your proposal is accepted

  • Suggest that a drafting committee be established, with a representative from your organization, to bring about the proposed change;
  • Offer your organization’s services to assist the officer responsible for implementing change;
  • If these formal offers are rejected, keep informal contact;
  • Follow through all procedural levels until the policy change becomes a reality;
  • Remember to thank everyone who had anything to do with bringing about the policy change - even those who were reluctant collaborators: you may need their help again in the future.

Ritu Sharma (2001) in An Introduction to Advocacy suggests five ways to begin the process of building relationships with decision-makers:

  • Establish Points of Entry – Think creatively about how you can get a meeting with the audience you need to reach. Is there something you have in common which would help you connect? Or with someone you know. For example, if a friend of yours attends the same church as the decision-maker, maybe your friend could arrange for you to make a presentation at the church.
  • Schedule a Meeting – Getting a meeting with a decision-maker or key audience is in itself the first successful step in reaching your advocacy goal.
  • Send a Letter of Invitation – The most common way to set up a meeting is to send a letter explaining what your advocacy goal is and why you would like a meeting. Afterwards, follow up with a phone call. Often you will not get a meeting with the official, but with a staff person. Always meet with the staff, and treat them in the same way you would treat the decision-maker.
  • Invite them to Visit - Another way to meet with and persuade people is to invite them to view your facility or project. This way you can show them what is working and why they should support it. If the decision-maker cannot come, try taking the project to them. Ask several members of the constituency affected by the problem to join you at a meeting, or show a videotape or photos of the project.
  • Make the Invitation through a Friend – If you have a friend or colleague who knows the decision-maker or someone on his or her staff, have your friend send the letter or make the phone call. Decision-makers will be more likely to meet with you and will likely give more credence and attention to the matter if the invitation comes from someone the decision-maker already knows and trusts.


Working with your circle of advocacy colleagues, identify your lobbying target and a plan to lobby this target including follow up steps.

1) Coady International Institute: Advocacy and Networking Manual, 2003

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