With Members of the U.S. House and Senate returning to work on Monday, April 28, WSW’s Scott Mackenzie offers the following 9 ways organizations and causes can improve their effectiveness on the Hill:
- Relationships cannot be built overnight and are best built before help is needed. There is no substitute for laying foundational groundwork by proactively engaging your Members early and often.
- Always keep your government relations (GR) team in the loop! We want as much information as possible on your initiatives, strategic plans, PR activities, and events. Things that you may not think should fall into the GR silo actually do. The more we know, the more we can help and the more effective we can be.
- Seek opportunities to engage your Members outside of Washington. Hosting a Member at your facility, in your town, or on campus gives Members an opportunity to see the great work you are doing, experience any problems first hand, engage with voters and provides a perfect press opportunity. It’s a major win-win.
- Congressional staffers are very busy. If matters are not extremely urgent, you are better off engaging staff during times when Members are back in their districts. Staff have less on their plates during these times and will generally devote more time and thought to your needs.
- Many people view Congress as one large organization. Perhaps two, split into House and Senate or Republicans and Democrats. In reality Congress is 535 individual organizations. Members represent very diverse districts and they and their staffs bring an equally distinct set of life experiences to the job. Do your homework before engaging. A little understanding goes a long way.
- Staff often cover a broad portfolio of issues for their bosses. Some will be knowledgeable about your issue and some won’t. Position yourself as a resource to help educate and inform them.
- Staff will often be many years your junior. Do not make the mistake of allowing age to discount your interaction or perception. These individuals have worked very hard and proven themselves trustworthy and effective to be in the positions they are in. Staff serve as issue area experts, gatekeepers, and messengers among many other roles. Make a good first impression, follow up and follow through.
- Understand what issues are important to the Member before you engage. A congratulatory note or comment on a recent accomplishment not only shows you are in tune, but that you genuinely care about the Member’s priorities. To the extent you can align your priorities with theirs, do so.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Look for existing synergies between your issues, personal background, and experience and those of your “champion” Members. There are often many pathways to a desired outcome in Washington. Rely on your trusted government relations advisors to help identify the best path to accomplish your goals.