The Perfect Advocate is You
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By Austin O'Boyle |

February 22, 2022 |

Updated March 4, 2022

3 minutes

It’s more important than ever to build relationships with lawmakers. Here’s why you should.

At the start of the pandemic, associations around the country sent millions of communications to Congress in search of emergency funding to help their members. With trillions in relief funds distributed and the pandemic continuing through the beginning of 2022, organizations have had to rewrite the playbook on how to effectively communicate with Congress—especially if they want their efforts to have any sort of impact on policy outcomes.

According to the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), Congressional offices have seen constituent communications increase anywhere from 200% to 1,000% during the past decade, forcing Congressional staff to prioritize incoming messages. Ultimately, these adaptations have made the cultivation of constituent-lawmaker relationships one of the most important factors in policymaking.

It’s no secret that relationships are what drive legislative change in Washington. With the massive increase in communication, however, constituents that have relationships with their representative and their office can cut through the noise and make a direct impact. It’s no surprise, therefore, that many advocates nationwide are looking to build relationships from the ground up.

Cultivating Relationships

According to a CMF survey of senior Congressional staff, one of the best ways to build a better relationship with a Congressional office is to cultivate relationships with staff and to meet with their in-district offices. Seventy-nine percent said that building a relationship with the Legislative Assistant was a great way to increase your profile in their office, while 59% said that constituent meetings in-district were another way to form a connection—underscoring that you don’t have to be a D.C. insider to create change. The bottom line: Attending in-district meetings and town halls, communicating with the office and building relationships with staff members cultivate a long-lasting relationship with your policymaker and ensure that you can cut through the noise.

As we look to deliver on our 2022 advocacy agenda, the National Apartment Association (NAA) continues to help our members build relationships with their Members of Congress. The Key Contact Program (naahq.org/key-contact-program) provides NAA members with that opportunity—and has made a tangible difference for the industry.

In the year ahead, Key Contacts will be expected to regularly reach out to their designated Congressional offices and meet with their Members of Congress at least twice per year. This kind of consistent activity will help our Key Contacts become well-known by their Congressional office as someone in the rental housing industry who can help guide them on housing policy as issues arise. 

Other elements of NAA’s advocacy program help industry professionals create meaningful relationships:

  • The At Home Program enables advocates to meet with their Members of Congress in-district to discuss important issues.
  • The Influencer Program aims to educate both lawmakers and the public on housing issues and how the industry has been affected by policies (naahq.org/influencer-program).
  • The Letter to the Editor (LTE) Program gives members the opportunity to help write and submit LTEs to local publications to educate their community on the implications of proposed policy.

Relationships have always been what help drive policy change in Washington, but you don’t have to be a government affairs professional to form these relationships. According to a CMF survey of senior Congressional staff, 82% said a visit from a lobbyist would be influential, but 97% said that visits from constituents would be influential. You are your best advocate—and by making the efforts to form relationships with your lawmakers, you can cut through the noise and create long-lasting change for the industry.

Austin O’Boyle is NAA’s Manager, Grassroots Engagement.