Christopher Kush has built a career on the idea that finely-tuned personal interactions between legislative representatives and their constituents can push those constituents’ concerns to the forefront of their representatives’ legislative agenda.
What moves members of Congress and their staffs are constituents who effectively share the concerns of their daily lives, and who then connect those stories to the relevant legislation, says Kush, chief executive officer of Soapbox Consulting in Washington, D.C. The eight-person company organizes grassroots lobbying activities for interest groups and organizations such as Argentum. Kush is the author of three books, including “The One-Hour Activist.”
Kush and his team have worked with grassroots advocates to communicate effectively on a wide range of issues from cancer prevention and treatment (American Cancer Society), to LGBT rights (the Human Rights Campaign), to wind energy (the American Wind Energy Association).
This September, Kush will coach senior living executives during an hour of advocacy training at Argentum’s 2017 Public Policy Institute and Fly-In. Participants will also be briefed on the relevant senior living issues by Argentum’s government affairs staff. They will then receive their Capitol Hill meetings schedule, and after the meetings, they’ll be expected to report back with notes on how the meetings went, as well as share questions and feedback.
Kush advises: Leave the mountains of statistics and policy arguments to the government relations folks. Instead, bring your life experience, passion for your work, and personality to your meetings with your representatives. What is important is to tell stories that resonate emotionally. For example, if you go to meet your representatives to discuss healthcare reform, don’t bombard your congressional representative and their staffs with numbers. Instead, share stories about the individuals that you and your staff care for.
“What I would have somebody do is have them say: ‘I’m going to introduce you to Lilly, and I want to explain what we do for Lilly, and I want you to understand how well we take care of her, and I want you to understand how much it costs us to do what we do,” Kush explains. “‘Then because I’m a manager, I want you to understand that we have 200 ‘Lillys’ in our community. And now when you think about Medicare and Medicaid and healthcare reform, I want you to know that for us, it’s going to be about whatever happens to Lilly.’”
Lawmakers are deluged with social media messages these days (not to mention the wining, dining, and campaign contributions). Yet surveys of congressional representatives and their staff conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation find that in-person visits from constituents have “‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of influence on undecided legislators — more than any other strategy for communicating with a member of Congress.”
The point of these in-person meetings, Kush says, is to build relationships with members of Congress and their staffs over time. Success can be measured through individual bills sponsored and funding scored, but “the work we do in the long run is not about one vote, or one chunk of money. It’s about creating support over the years for a variety of issues, and a variety of funding streams.”
Senior living executives can expect to learn these strategies and more when they register for the 2017 Public Policy Institute and Fly-In. For more information, please visit argentum.org/ppi.
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