How do I rock my new policy job?
October 9, 2014 6:28 AM   Subscribe

I just landed a really exciting position as a policy analyst/lobbyist for a non-profit which does work I believe in. I want to hit the ground running. What do I need to know? (Difficulty level: I have never worked in policy/lobbying before.)

I will have access to resources that discuss the issues I'll be working on, but I'm looking for practical advice about the hows and whys of policy analysis and lobbying.

For instance, I'd like to know how to stay abreast of the (fairly vast) amount of legislation that could potentially impact my issue. I'd like to know how to write a fact sheet, an action alert, a press release, and other pieces of writing that will be necessary for my job. I'd like to know how to build a grassroots coalition around an issue, and how to train and empower people who are not professionals to give effective oral and/or written testimony. I'd also like to know what I haven't thought to ask about. If you have done this kind of work, what did you wish you knew when you started?

Thank you for your help.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You haven't mentioned networking skills or powers of persuasion. You will need both in buckets.
posted by biffa at 6:32 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This will vary wildly depending on what body you are lobbying. If it's a state legislature or something with a lot of moving parts, honestly, you're going to be very ineffective while you learn to count votes. Does your org work with contract lobbyists as well? If so, the most senior and ideologically non-aligned of those can be a good introduction to the names and faces in the building (like, say you're an environmental group but one of your contract lobbyists also does work for corporate clients, or the NRA or something like that).

More than anything, do NOT let your passion for the cause seep into your comportment when talking to members/councillors/whoever you are lobbying. Oh, and figure out what state ethics/oversight entity you need to register with ASAP!
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 6:42 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the writing pieces, find templates and examples on the group's server or website. Every organization has a different voice, if not multiple voices for different audiences.

To begin developing your political strategy skills, start learning to listen to your intuition about people and events. Find good mentors and advisers who know the arena you're working in well.
posted by slidell at 7:14 AM on October 9, 2014

It sounds like you understand the big things at play in a job like this.

Some of these skills (writing fact sheets, action alerts, and press releases; building a coalition; training/empowering people) are learned and require hands-on training and practice, so your best bet will be to go into things with an open mind and a notebook to jot down ideas. You can and should prepare yourself by looking at variety of materials - press releases, fact sheets, testimony - and thinking about what seems to work, what doesn't work well, and why.

I work at a think tank. For maintaining awareness of legislation and relevant news, I use Google Alerts and some relevant e-newsletters, but the best way to stay in tune to these things is to talk to people. Get coffee with your colleagues. Get drinks with your friends who are interested in similar issues. You can't possibly catch everything yourself, so keep your network healthy so they can help you do it.

Are you in the US? If so you should know that engaging in substantial lobbying is generally a no-no for 501(c)(3) non-profits. Even describing yourself as a lobbyist instead of a policy analyst could be a serious career misstep if you work for such an organization, especially if you're actually in DC where these things are often under scrutiny.

If you're not in the US, or you work for another 501(c) designation, disregard of course. But even if this doesn't pertain to your situation, it's still good to remember how lobbyists tend to be perceived by the public, and how advocacy is generally seen, because this will affect how you write those press releases, fact sheets, etc.

posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:43 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Start practicing using the arguments/approach/language that will convince your target audience - which may not necessarily be the same as the ones that convince you. In particular, if you already know a lot about the issue, you will probably be tempted to over-complicate things to capture all the nuance that you think is important. Most of that nuance won't mean anything to most of your audience, and may just confuse them.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 12:50 PM on October 9, 2014

Also, policy analysis and lobbying are very different things. Resist the temptation to let your ongoing beliefs color your initial analysis of an issue or situation. Try and be objective as possible in working out what's going on, who it will benefit, who it will harm etc. Once you've done that, then use that analysis to help craft your message. Otherwise you risk believing your own spin, which can come back to bite you later if someone finds factual errors in your work.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 12:55 PM on October 9, 2014

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