Through a series of articles we call The State, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy and Political Affairs team is providing analysis related to "the state of" various aspects related to advocacy and political trends impacting farmers and ranchers and rural Americans.
When it comes to influential advocacy, relationships matter. They always have. According to the Congressional Management Foundation, 74% of congressional staffers say personal relationships are the most effective way to reach influential lawmakers.
When I came to American Farm Bureau, I met a key contact and friend, Brad Fitch, who is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation. Over the 15 years I’ve known Brad, I have learned a lot about adapting successful and influential advocacy tactics to the Farm Bureau Advocacy program.
One statement has resonated with me as the FB Advocacy program has grown:
The statement has two key components, both of which are required for Farm Bureau to succeed at advocacy: skilled advocates with relationships.
Farm Bureau works hard to develop skilled advocates. We have a long history in advocacy training. Our focus is to provide tools and training to help advocates be influential and feel more empowered to engage. Over my time with AFBF, we have developed various FB Advocacy training programs that help state Farm Bureaus and members increase their overall effectiveness in grassroots advocacy. In addition to the traditional advocacy training sessions, we focus on relationship-building, in-district advocacy, video advocacy and media training.
And the second, equally important, component of the statement is relationships with members of Congress. Establishing these relationships takes time and commitment for the Farm Bureau advocate. Still, members of Congress are within an advocate's reach. Here are some items we recommend:
- Find mutual connections in your own network and theirs. Chances are you have a connection to the member or their staff. When we share a common friend, school or history, that shared understanding helps to make a meaningful connection.
- Meet the member in your community: attend town halls, schedule farm visits, and participate in events at which the member will appear.
- Get to know the member’s staff and share your story. Putting a face to an issue is essential for the staff to understand the issue and get to know you. If they have a question, be their resource and help them find the answer.
We encourage farmers and ranchers to take these tactics to heart and develop relationships with current and potential members of Congress and their staff. Farm Bureau excels because of both the skill of our advocates and their relationships. Effective and influential advocacy is achieved by skilled advocates with relationships to the lawmakers and their staff.
Cody Lyon is AFBF’s managing director of advocacy and political affairs.