13. Target and track policymakers

Advocacy campaigns should not waste time or money on policymakers who have already made up their minds. They should instead focus on undecided officials. In order to do this efficiently, you must set up a targeting and tracking system and get continuous input from every person in your campaign who interacts with policymakers.

The targeting and tracking system is a spreadsheet or database which lists each policymaker, notes if a policymaker is on a committee that’s important to the advocacy campaign, and whether the policymaker is a committee chair, subcommittee chair, or in leadership. The heart of this record is a designation of where each policymaker stands on your proposal.

It is traditional to list policymakers’ positions on a 1-to-5 scale where 1 means the official is totally supportive of your policy and 5 means he or she is totally against it. Some of these ratings can start out with question marks or guesses, but as soon as possible you need to know where every policymaker stands.

While staying in touch with 1s, your campaign should overwhelmingly spend its time and money moving 3s to 2s and 2s to 1s. You can also spend a little time on the 4s, but they usually turn out to be 5s who were too polite to deliver a flat “no.”

Ideally, this system records in detail every time one of your campaign staff, volunteers or allies talks to any policymaker about your issue. You want to build up information about each elected official’s individual questions and concerns. This intelligence-gathering is the best way to figure out what it will take to persuade each policymaker, or if he or she is actually locked-in to support one side or the other.

Keep in mind that not everybody associated with your campaign is a skilled lobbyist. If a volunteer tells you that an undecided policymaker said that he or she is now in favor of the measure, have someone else—a paid campaign staffer or the sponsor—double check. And no matter who heard a policymaker commit to vote for a bill, it is always better to have it in writing—a letter from the policymaker to his or her constituent or a quote by the policymaker printed in the newspaper.