For organizations that lobby within their state there seems to be a strong connection between budget cycles and timing the decision to start an advocacy network. As a result, the decision to invest in an advocacy system often occurs just prior to the start of a legislative session. As a result, the creation and use of many advocacy networks is timed for when the legislative sessions are most active and not necessarily when the advocacy process can be most effective. While the legislative session in many states is only a portion of the year, advocacy must be a year round process.
Let’s take the example of a state where new gun control laws have been considered that would enable licensed gun owners to pack and carry on college campuses, churches, and public schools. The state has a two year legislation cycle and the bill did not make it through both chambers in the first year of the current cycle. As a result, the bill lingers for consideration in next year’s session.
Imagine you are the head of a university. The law as written opens you up to concerns regarding campus safety and the administration’s ability to protect the students entrusted to your care. Your university has met with faculty and staff and they share the administration’s concern on this issue. The question now becomes how can you maximize your voice regarding your organization’s stance on the issue. Your current legislative session is over and the next session starts in January of the following year.
When should you begin to work on legislators to get the bill amended, discarded, or supported? The process should not be focused on when the bill is being voted on but should begin early so that you can learn what obstacles stand in the way and have time to build a strategy to overcome them. Your advocacy network can help you learn about which legislators are supporters of your position and which ones may be your obstacles. Many lobbyists themselves spend the time in between sessions laying ground work for issues and setting the stage for the next session. Your advocacy network can be doing that work for you as well. If your network records your member’s relationships with legislators you can use these connections to drill down to specific decision makers and set your strategy in place.
There is no such thing as down time in the real world of state and federal politics anymore. There might be a cooling off period at the end of each session, but within days or maybe weeks of the end of a session, you can bet that there are many who begin defining positions for issues well in advance of the next session.
Your advocacy network should be working year round. Your advocates should be reminding their legislators how you stand on issues, thanking legislators for their support during the last session, and specifying what action will be needed next year. Don’t fall into the trap of advocating only when you need something. If you are an advocate for something it means you believe in something strongly and might go up to bat for it. Your advocates can go to bat for you all year round and if they do, they will feel more engaged in your issues and you will find yourself with more support at the capitol.