I recently had the rewarding experience of attending ASAE's American Associations Day Legislative Fly-in. Wendy Kavanagh, the executive director of the Georgia Society of Association Executies, let me tag along with the Georgia contingent on four of their meetings.
It's always fascinating to see the First Amendment â€” the right to petition government â€” in practice. In our case, we saw the staffs of two senators and two representatives from Georgia. Our three main objectives in the meetings were to talk about association (or small business) health insurance plans, ethics reform, and jumping in front of any possible legislation dealing with spam and associations' ability to email their members. (For more on ASAE's public policy initiatives, see the public policy web site.)
Perhaps more interesting to a wider audience was one of the sessions led by Amy Showalter, president of The Showalter Group. Amy's presentation was called "Why Winners Win â€” Best Grassroots Practices from TSG's Fortune Power 25 Grassroots Benchmarking Inventory," and looked at the success and failures of some of the top lobbying groups as listed by Fortune magazine. Her conclusion is that five factors seemed to really make a difference when it comes to persuading an undecided lawmaker to vote the way your constituency would want them to.
1. The legislator's margin of victory in his or her last election. If it was close, then letting them know how many voters you have and how influential they are counts for a lot.
2. Having a "left-leaning" staff. That's the case with the Fortune 25, because most of them advocate for issues that generally fall to the right of the political spectrum, so having someone who lenas the opposite way on many other issues may be able to connect better with an undecided lobbyist. A better way to think of this finding may be to say having a lobbyists that leans toward the opposite side of the political spectrum than what your organization is typically labeled may help you.
3. Number of face-to-face meetings. Contacts count a lot.
4. Number of key influentials. Can you document the reach of your group in a convincing way?
5. And, like it or not, money matters. If you max out your PAC contributions to a candidate, Amy's research suggests they are more likely to move from undecided to your column. It's likely that the contributions help get your organization noticed â€” your message still has to resonate with the legislator, but getting noticed is a significant part of the game.