Days at the Capitol
Invite the Right People
For a campaign around Head Start and Early Head Start, consider inviting advocates who have noticed a difference when similar policies have been enacted in their communities.
Individual meetings can go a long way toward making a difference with your legislator—but sometimes there is strength in numbers. If you are looking to combine a media event and a legislator meeting, you may consider hosting a day at the state capitol where advocates hold a rally and then attend scheduled meetings with decision makers.
Here are some things to think about as you plan your own day at the capitol.
Choose the Right Day
Planning a day at the Capitol takes a lot of time and work. It is a large investment for one short day. Therefore, it is important to make sure you schedule the event for when it will be most effective.
- There are certain points in the rhythm of the legislative calendar when a day at the Capitol could be particularly helpful. Policymakers will be more focused on your issue if a vote is upcoming or if a specific committee is viewing relevant legislation. By talking to them at this point in time, you can grab their attention and remind them why this issue matters to you. Remember, if you talk about specific legislation with a legislator, it is considered lobbying.
- If you choose to reflect a view on specific legislation in this type of meeting, make sure you have ample, unrestricted dollars to cover the costs of both planning and hosting such an event. These activities will be a lobbying expense because it involves communicating directly with legislators about specific legislation.
- The legislative calendar lends itself to a variety of opportunities for meetings. Consider a time when things are slower at the Capitol, not at the start of a new legislative session. That way you may be able to secure more quality face time with your legislator. If there is an opportunity to connect your visit to an awareness day (for example, American Education Week), this could give an additional emphasis to your visit.
- If you focus your message more generally on your topic separate from a specific legislation focus, it may be possible to use non-lobbying funds for this activity. When using non-lobbying funds, you must stick to educating legislators on general discussions regarding your issue. You can also secure a legislator’s general backing for your issue, obtain support for non-legislative matters, or request their support for a particular grant application to help your campaign. Alternatively, if you want to use your visit to influence legislators to introduce or support specific legislation or appropriations, you must use lobbying dollars to pay for these activities.
Invite the Right People
When you schedule these types of events, remember that legislators and their staff want to hear from constituents with direct experience with the issues at hand. Remember to include a variety of voices in your attendees, including leaders who can speak credibly about the topic and its impact on young children and their learning environments.
Help Advocates Attend
- If you have the resources, make plans to help your advocates get to the Capitol, especially those with financial or transportation limitations. Consider offering gas money or assistance in paying for their plane ticket. An investment like this, to get the right people on the front end, can help ensure a successful visit. If the Capitol is within reasonable driving distance, identify who can drive and who would like or need to carpool with others.
- If overnight travel is necessary, settle on a hotel and send out the booking information well in advance of the rally so people can get the cheapest rates and stay together for easy coordination (this may be another opportunity to help individuals out with the costs, if you are able). Always ask the hotel if it has group discount rates.
- Make sure your accommodations are pleasant and have sufficient space for group training meetings or debriefings. Consider gathering advocates the night before your event, once everyone has arrived, to align on the following day’s agenda and key talking points. Lodging arrangements should also be fairly close to the Capitol, so it does not take long to get there from the hotel. We recommend visiting the hotel in advance to make sure it is suitable for your advocates. Remember, you want people coming back next year, and comfort—even modest comfort—is important!
- Ask advocates if they have any barriers to participating, such as transportation or child care, and brainstorm ways to help overcome these issues to ensure full participation.
- Keep in mind that if the event is a lobbying effort, all related expenses incurred by your organization (including transportation and lodging) must be paid using lobbying funds.
Create a Schedule
Plan a clear itinerary that you can distribute to advocates in advance of your event as well as when they arrive; you can even place it in their hotel rooms with a gift bag to make them feel welcome. An itinerary will communicate that this trip is important and purposeful, and set expectations for what they will get out of participating. On the itinerary, note the key message for advocates, make the goal of the event clear, and emphasize what the common ask and next steps will be for follow up. Be sure to schedule time at the end of the day to receive immediate feedback and debrief on key conversations.
Build Time for Fun
Beyond meeting with their decision makers, this is an excellent time for advocates to connect. Advocates are often more committed and inspired to support the issue at hand when they feel as though they are a part of a community. Although your advocates are connecting online, they may have few opportunities to connect in person, so they can learn from each other and share experiences. Make sure to schedule intentional times for this to happen in the form of meetings as well as fun outings.
Create a Leave-Behind
Make sure your advocates are armed with tools that will help drive the point further home to decision makers. That could be the decision maker fact sheet in this toolkit or something more, like a petition from advocates in their community. If your visit is a lobbying visit, materials you create specifically for the visit are considered lobbying materials and should be supported with unrestricted resources. But if you create materials in advance and distribute them broadly to the public, you may be able to use non-lobbying funds for your leave-behinds. Plan your campaign materials several weeks or months in advance, think strategically, and consult a lawyer who is familiar with these issues.
Follow up with Successes
After the day at the Capitol is finished, make sure you follow up with advocates about the meetings, reporting any successful interactions or resulting legislative movement. The important thing here is to let advocates know their efforts were worth it so they will continue to be involved in your cause.
- Look at the legislative calendar and pick a day that makes sense for your visit.
- Think carefully about who should be in the room, and make sure to bring constituents with direct experience about the issues at hand.
- Do what you can to make the process of traveling to the Capitol as easy as possible for your advocates.
- Have materials on hand for advocates to make the purpose of the event clear and ensure that everyone is comfortable talking about your issue.