political-lobbying-cartoon

First, let’s clear up the assumption that political lobbying is inherently bad.

The cartoon above is powerful, but it only implies one side of the coin. That is, that the rich and the powerful use money as an incentive to pass legislation that goes against voter’s interests. Very true, but nonetheless, only one side of the story.

The other side involves advocacy groups lobbying to bring about positive change for their causes, often by bringing these causes to the attention of legislators through face-to-face meetings or having supporters call them. 

Showing legislators that people in their constituencies actually care about an issue can, at minimum, cause them to rethink their stance.

At best? Your lobbying efforts might mean the difference between a bill getting passed, or languishing in a cupboard in the House chamber. Click To Tweet

Almost every interest group you can think of has a presence on Capitol Hill to further the concerns of their cause, ranging from climate change advocates seeking meaningful climate reform to LGBTQ+ groups seeking equal opportunities.

Read on to know what techniques and strategies your organization can employ to take advantage of political lobbying—for good.

What is political lobbying?

Lobbying involves contacting legislators and trying to convince them to support or reject policy. Whether you are an individual constituent or an advocacy group, when you meet with representatives with an attempt to elicit a policy change, you are lobbying them.

As with every stage of an advocacy campaign, you need to plan lobbying strategically to exert the right kind of pressure on your representatives and gain a favorable outcome.

Bear in mind that in the USA, only advocacies that have 501(c)(4) status can be involved in political lobbying and even so, there are certain restrictions:

  • Lobbying cannot be the primary focus of your advocacy—The funds used for lobbying should constitute less than half of their total budget.
  • Lobbying for legislative change is less restrictive than lobbying to get candidates elected. Money must not go to funds tied to a candidate’s campaign. 
  • The money going towards lobbying efforts are not taxdeductible.

How do you start political lobbying?

There are two primary types of political lobbying:

  • Grassroots Lobbying
  • Direct Lobbying

Let’s talk about them and how you would put these methods into practice in more detail:

1. Grassroots Lobbying

The power of the people is core to your grassroots lobbying campaign.

With grassroots (or indirect) political lobbying, you raise awareness about issues that your advocacy group wants to rectify and then use this as a channel to influence the lawmakers’ stance. 

Your goal is to encourage and enable supporters to reach out to their representatives through email, direct mail, social media, and telephone in order to share their stance on an issue.

The best way to do that is through patch-through calls.

Patch-through calling for Grassroots Lobbying

Useful for connecting voters to officials, patch-through calling lets volunteers call supporters, tutor them about issues and take them through exactly how to carry out a conversation with their representative before patching the call to the right representative.

patch-through-calling-political-lobbying

Take, for example, the National Equality Action Team or NEAT, an advocacy group focused on LGBTQ+ issues.

They ran successful patch-through calling campaigns using CallHub to reach out to supporters and then connected them to their local elected officials to express their stance on equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community.

Here’s how you can run an effective patch-through calling campaign:

Run a distributed campaign, where each constituency is clubbed under a different campaign in your patch-through calling software. Assign volunteers to regions based on their fluency with the issues concerning that particular constituency. This increases the effectiveness of your message.

Tutor supporters about the specifics. It’s up to volunteers to get supporters up to speed on the best way to get their message across to their representatives. 

For example, a supporter might need to know:

  • The related bill number
  • What the government is doing about it 
  • The specific action the representative should be taking

With patch-through calling, volunteers can communicate these specifics to supporters before transferring their call.

Call the right representative. Connect supporters only to representatives of their state. 

How to set up a patch-through calling campaign 

Depending on the calling software you are using, the process varies. Setting up a patch-through calling campaign using CallHub is as simple as 1-2-3.

1. Add your transfer numbers.

Go to your CallHub settings, found under your username in the top right of the screen. Navigate to Call Center Settings.

patch-through-setting

Click on the button “Add Transfer number” to add a new transfer number. You need to add a transfer name and the number of the transfer. 

2. Set up a calling campaign

Choose a Call Center campaign on the CallHub dashboard:

patch-through-call-center

3. Enable call transferring for the campaign.

In the settings, enable Attended Transfer. Search and add the chosen transfer numbers.

patch-through-transfer-setting

Once you start the campaign, your volunteers now have the option to transfer calls.

Connect Supporters to Lawmakers

Run Patch-Through Calling Campaigns using CallHub

Other techniques under Grassroots Lobbying

Using media outreach: This usually involves using a range of different media to create impact regarding a bill or a policy. This includes making use of print, television, and online channels such as social media to influence people to make a stand.

Mobilizing people: This involves organizing rallies, boycotts, or agitations for or against an issue. This is an effective tool as it garners intense media attention and puts pressure on policymakers. 

Using opinion polls: When public opinion about a bill is in line with what lobbyists want to achieve, they use polls to cast attention on legislators’ decisions.

2. Direct Lobbying

The most powerful technique for direct lobbying is a face-to-face meeting, so you can help representatives understand the issues affecting your interests, and policies which can help better these situations in person.

However, for this to work, it is necessary to first build working relationships with lawmakers.

in-person-lobbying-example
Credit: Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call

A recent successful (albeit long-drawn) direct lobbying campaign was the 9-11 first responders fight to extend funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which provided benefits to those developing health issues related to the terror attack. 

The lobbying campaign was spearheaded by the first responders themselves, with help from comedian Jon Stewart, as they personally visited legislators on Capitol Hill to get their bill passed. 

In-Person lobbying

When lobbying in person, there are several tips that you need to keep in mind. It’s a threefold process, meaning, you need to approach it from a strategy spanning before, during, and post your meeting so that it maximizes your lobbying efforts. Let’s look at some techniques and tips for each.

How to effectively lobby In Person 

1. Before meeting your Representative
  • Prepare literature about the policy you’re targeting, including issues and concerns you hope to get resolved.
  • Do background research on your rep. Look at their previous record with similar issues and the respective stands they took. This will give you a fair idea of how successful your lobbying is likely to be.
  • Schedule an appoint via phone call or email at least a week before you intend to meet. If you’re unable to get through to your rep, try getting through to their staff. Be polite yet firm in your request.
  • Highlight your agenda for the meeting by sending the literature you prepared so that the rep or official has a clear idea of what to expect during the meeting.
  • Reconfirm your meeting beforehand to avoid lastminute scheduling problems.
2. During the Meeting
  • Be as brief as possible. Your rep probably won’t have a lot of time to spare, so make it direct and to the point.
  • If you’re referring to an existing policy or one which is in the works, refer to it by its number and title. Talk about why you want your rep to take a particular stance regarding the bill and how it’ll benefit constituents. Have valid data and examples to back up your views.
  • A good practice is to mention other lawmakers or influential organizations that support your stance. This shows that you’re not alone and have relevant backing.
  • Be prepared to answer questions that come your way; however, it is okay if you don’t know the answer to a question. Let them know you will get back to them later with the relevant answer.
  • Ask direct Yes/No questions. This ensures that instead of walking away with an inconclusive and drawn out answer, you have one which immediately determines the level of support you have from them, if any.
  • Be prepared for someone who is rude or firmly refuses to comply with your demands. You win some, you lose some, right?
  • Leave something tangible behind, such as a hard copy of your agenda so that your meeting isn’t forgotten.
  • Always schedule a follow-up so that you’re updated on the bill or issue.
3. Post Meeting
  • Follow up with a thank-you letter or email, even if your issue wasn’t necessarily backed.
  • Post about your meeting on different channels, talking about the outcome reached. This shows other organizations or people involved in the same issues about whether they can count on the politician’s support or not.
  • If your rep agreed to support your cause, create a timeline-based strategy on how you can work together to achieve your aims.

Other techniques under Direct Lobbying:

Making phone calls: If you’re working under time constraints and don’t have the bandwidth to mobilize your supporters for patch-through calls, you can personally call legislators. While on a call, be concise and firm and explain what the particular problem is, and how policy can alleviate the issue. Ask where your representative stands on the issue and request action.

Sending emails and letters: Send direct and concise emails, with clear subject lines so that they don’t get ignored. Ask questions and request specific action; talk about how the action will benefit the community should be included as well.


Legislators are often isolated from the issues that everyday people face on the ground (though they might think otherwise). Bringing the concerns of these people to lawmakers is what lobbying lets you do.

Whether you are taking advantage of grassroots support or lobbying directly for your cause, get your message right and show them how the right policies can bring about positive change in the lives of ordinary people.

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