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How to Schedule Lobby Visits, A Primer

April 5, 2010

You know the saying that goes:  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again?

There is no magic to scheduling lobby visits.  And if you’re Chuck Norris, you always get it right on the first try.

However, if you’re like the rest of us, it sometimes takes a little persistence — especially if you’re scheduling 200 visits at once.

Back in October, when I agreed to coordinate the scheduling of all the lobby visits for the Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference, I had almost no idea what I was agreeing to do.  All I knew was that there were about 1000 people registering for this conference, that the theme was on migration, and that our job would be to set up their meetings.

It couldn’t be too hard, right?  All it takes to set up a meeting is an email to the office, one or two well-placed phone calls, and you’ve got a date, right?

Countless spreadsheets and meetings later, I stand corrected.  It is a lot of work to set up so many lobby visits.  I had help, in the form of a crack team of a dozen volunteers and a courageous colleague at the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.  Here’s how the story goes:

T minus one month: We alert all the members of Congress to the incoming wave of people of faith from around the country, by sending them a fax requesting a meeting.

T minus 3 weeks: We unleash the awesome power of our volunteers on Congress.  Each volunteer takes responsibility for scheduling House and Senate visits for 3 states.  Commence a stylized dance of email, call, email, call, email, call as we reach out to the schedulers.

T minus 2 weeks: Our shared spreadsheet starts to fill up with scheduled visits — 15 people from PA visiting Rep. Fattah at 10 am, 40 people from NY visiting Sen. Schumer at 1, 2 people from OR visiting Rep. Blumenauer at 3, and so on.

T minus 1 week: We realize that we have to create individual schedules for each participant.  Commence frantic search for anyone with technical expertise who can help us.

T minus 5 days: Techie found, reformatting of spreadsheet complete.

T minus 3 days: 95% of visits are scheduled with either members of Congress or their staff.

T minus 2 days: We persist with offices we haven’t heard from, and we pick up a few extra visits with last-minute phone calls.

T minus zero: People of faith from around the country lobby 200 members of Congress on the urgent need for humane immigration reform, funding for refugee programs, and debt relief to address the root causes of migration.

Whew.

I still think it’s easy to set up a lobby visit, and it’s possible to set up hundreds of lobby visits with enough planning.  In the end it’s just about contacting the office, finding the right person to meet with on your particular issue, and finding a time that works for both of you.  We just did that 200 times in a row.  I guess that if practice makes perfect, then my team of volunteers may not yet be perfect but we’re getting close…

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