Planning for the 114th Congress

How to get your grassroots advocacy program off to a great start

With the start of the new Congress, most government relations offices are assessing their needs for what the New Year and a new Congress will bring them. No matter the size of the office, this is the time of year where many have dusted off last year’s goals and strategic plan, to be evaluated on the opportunities a new Congress has to offer. Most government relations offices will also review potential bills that have stalled because the appropriate legislative vehicle hasn’t presented itself. PAC directors will review fundraising strategies and messaging to increase the size of their PAC for what will be the next ‘most expensive election ever’.

Where does your grassroots program stand? Are your key contacts still engaged? Do you have members or employees who know their new member of Congress?

Since 2010, nearly half of the U.S. Congress has turned over. New faces at the member level and the staff level are continuing to populate the Capitol and, looking at projections for the 2016 elections, there may be even more new faces to come. Your grassroots network should receive as much attention as your PAC and lobbying when planning your congressional strategy. Consider asking the following questions:

  • Do I have a key contact in the district for all my essential committee members?
  • Are my primary contacts adequately informed about what happened in the previous congressional session?
  • Are my contacts the right people for the member of Congress?
  • Do they have the right information about the new Congress and our organizational goals? Is anything changing?

By having this discussion you are able to outline potential needs before they hit a crisis point. After all, if you at least have the key contacts in place or identified, you have saved a number of steps when the new member of Congress says “that’s nice, but what do my constituents think about it?”

Here are a few ideas on how some organizations involve their grassroots in their ‘new Congress’ planning process.

  • Send a survey to grassroots members, stakeholder groups and other active parts of your organization to identify a base. This will allow you to understand where your grassroots are on key issues and identify future priorities. Surveys should be short and should not be considered a poll, but rather used to provide insight on where your program needs updates.
  • Review your key contacts and their relationships. Be sure they are still relevant, with committee chairs turning over and recent retirements. The ‘go-to’ grassroots people might not be in the same position as they were two years ago. For example, if your key contact for Chairman Camp was his next door neighbor he likely doesn’t have the same relationship with the Camp’s replacements (both for his house seat and his committee post).
  • Review your grassroots knowledge base. Look at what your grassroots members are saying when meeting with elected officials and their staff. Do they understand the issues? Or are they ‘stuck’ on details that are either not relevant or are issues pertaining to the past. Discuss with colleagues who may have attended meetings.
  • Thank your grassroots members. It goes without saying that these individual members of your organization used some of their time and energy in your efforts.

Grassroots advocacy is more than a check of the box, it takes time to nurture a network and educate members/employees. With that said, what are some of the things your organization will try to accomplish in 2015?

Adam Melis

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