Lobbying is usually defined as directly persuading decision-makers (for example politicians) and influential stakeholders of the importance of your advocacy objectives, and convincing them to act accordingly. Originally, the term referred to people frequenting the lobbies or corridors of parliaments or government buildings in order to speak to lawmakers. It is just one means of trying to influence decision-makers. Other advocacy activities – such as mobilisation of your supporters in a public campaign, or media work on your tax issue – can also have a very significant impact on decision-makers indirectly. But lobbying is all about how to influence decision-makers directly.
As was stressed at the beginning of this chapter, your choice and sequencing of different advocacy tools and activities will depend on your country context. It will also depend on your decisions about what advocacy approaches are likely to have the most impact at various stages and to bring about the changes you are seeking. In some countries, there is no history or culture of policy-makers being lobbied by civil society organisations (CSOs) and, in these situations, it may prove difficult or impossible for CSOs to engage in direct, face-to-face lobbying. Equally, in other countries where there is a strong tradition of popular mobilisation and public campaigning to bring about change, private lobbying may have limited impact or be a waste of time. In these contexts, policy-makers may only respond to public pressure.
Your lobby targets on tax could range from governments, to revenue authorities, to multinational companies (MNCs) or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (see the ‘Who’s Who’ of tax stakeholders, in Chapter 2, for a fuller list of examples). Your choice of targets will depend on your power analysis.
Lobbying can be formal: for example through letter writing, sharing of written policy briefings, scheduled face-to-face meetings, and round-table seminars with policy-makers. Or it can be more informal: at chance meetings, receptions, invitations to events, and so on. A good lobbyist seizes an opportunity when it arises, however unexpected.
The cornerstone of lobbying is shaping the agenda around a ‘deliverable’ for the decision-maker, something they can specifically do to contribute to the change you want to bring about.
The most successful lobbyists:1
- understand their target’s needs, concerns, arguments and sensitivities, and the issues from their point of view, and assemble their arguments accordingly
- are familiar with their target: how they’ve acted on this or similar issues in the past, their voting records and past statements, whether they represent particular economic interests. This all helps to establish whether they are likely to be sympathetic to your position or not, and how you might best influence them, or if necessary ‘neutralise’ them in the debate (so they will not be actively opposing)
- understand the route map of the system, how it works and where decisions are really made, where the power lies and what is the balance of power in the legislature
- recognise the time constraints on achieving their immediate and longer-term objectives as this can affect the feasibility of their lobbying work – ideally act early while policy is still malleable
- understand the need to show and prove a constituency of support and interest
- identify potential ‘champions’ of their cause in the government or legislature who will help promote the issue and contribute to change.* Some factors to consider in identifying your champion are: their record on the issue, seniority, reliability, where they sit on the political spectrum, whether they are part of a minority or majority party. Try not to rely on one champion alone, as that could leave you a hostage to fortune if they prove less effective than you hoped
- remember that there are no permanent enemies and friends so avoid burning their bridges permanently!
* Ensuring that champions are effective can involve substantial work, so be prepared to provide them with information and draft speeches, keep abreast of timings, and advise them as appropriate.
Immediate success is not guaranteed. It can often be about negotiating over a period of time and seeking resolution in the longer term.
Writing position papers and developing policy recommendations
A popular form of communicating with decision-makers is to use a policy briefing that clearly outlines your policy position. A position is a statement of what an organisation, group or person believes about a particular issue and how they think this should be acted upon. It will elaborate on the core advocacy message(s) you have developed (on developing your advocacy message(s), see ‘Developing your key messages’ in Chapter 2).
Position papers serve many useful purposes:2
- They clarify thinking on a particular issue. It is often only when things are written down that the position becomes clear.
- They ensure accurate representation. Being able to give a position to other groups such as the media and policy-makers will help you to be accurately represented and understood by them.
- They provide consistency of voice to ensure that all spokespeople within the group give the same messages.
- They provide consistency with other positions to ensure that your position on tax is consistent with your position on other issues.
- They clarify differences to help you identify the main areas of disagreement you have with other people’s or stakeholders’ positions and therefore clarify the main areas for advocacy work.
Guidance on developing position papers
- Position papers should be kept as brief as possible and to the point.
- Focus on what you can offer, such as new or unique evidence that you might have.
- Make sure that information is relevant and up to date.
- Build arguments around what you believe to be the weak points of the policy-makers.
- Policy-makers need to know they can work with you, so ensure that the tone of the position paper shows that you are willing to cooperate.
- Write clear recommendations that can be implemented by the paper’s target audience.
- Write joint position statements as part of a network if you think it will bring more chance of success, although be aware that these can take a long time to agree.
- Ensure that your position accurately reflects the views of those you claim to represent.
- Use headed notepaper if possible and get others to check for grammar and spelling mistakes – poor presentation can discourage people from reading it.
Positions can be sent or given to policy-makers in one of three main forms:
- A short briefing paper (2–4 sides), handed over at a visit or sent with an accompanying letter highlighting one or two key points or the recommendations
- A longer briefing document, handed over at a visit or sent with an accompanying letter highlighting the main points
- A letter written for a specific policy-maker, which includes the main points from a position paper. This acts as a stand-alone document, but offers to provide more details if required.
Although positions appear in many different forms and serve many different purposes, they are likely to include some or all of the components below:
- Introduction: name of organisation, what your main activities are, your mandate or reason for existence
- Executive summary: (if the position paper is long) a brief outline of your history of involvement, of the issues and why you are concerned
- Effects and evidence – presenting the problem: describe the current and potential future effects of the issue on those you represent or are working with, including any primary or secondary research you have – if you have detailed information, add an appendix to the document and refer to it here
- Causes and responsibility: Which groups or individuals have caused the current situation and are responsible for it? What events have contributed towards it? Why have particular actions been wrong, according to law, morality, and so on?
- Solutions and policy recommendations: see ‘Top Tips for formulating policy recommendations’ below
- Appendices: include any detailed information that you have referred to in the main document.
For most decision-makers, a short briefing paper or letter is preferable. Politicians have very little time to engage with your issue, so giving them a long policy report is generally a bad idea (unless specifically requested) – it may well end up in the bin! You can always let them and their advisors know that a longer version is available if they need more background information or analysis.
NB: Make sure that your position paper or letter includes actions that you want the decision-makers to take. For example ask parliamentarians to request a debate in Parliament, table parliamentary questions or seek a meeting with the relevant minister.
TOP TIP for formulating policy recommendations3
Clear policy recommendations are key to developing a policy position. By this point, you will have done some research on a given tax issue that supports your original problem analysis and you now want to use your research as a basis for advocating for positive change.
- Whatever written document you give your target decision-maker – whether it is a position paper or a more in-depth policy report – you will need to include recommendations (based on your research) that spell out to those you are trying to influence what they need to do in order to bring about positive change.
- Don’t just present policy-makers with a list of recommendations in isolation. You also need to provide some information (however brief) about the problem or issue and your concerns.
- As much as possible, base your recommendations on real evidence (either from research undertaken on a given issue or your on-the-ground experience).
- Make sure that your recommendations are as specific as possible and are asking the person or institution to do something. Avoid broad rhetorical statements that policy-makers can easily agree with, but which they then do nothing about.
- Try to ensure that your recommendations relate to real political processes and opportunities that the person or institution has some power to influence (for example forthcoming parliamentary bills, budget planning processes).
- Only put one ‘ask’ in each recommendation. Clear, succinct recommendations (of no more than 2–3 lines) will be more difficult for policy-makers to ignore and will be easier for you to monitor if and when they are implemented.
- Be clear about whom you are directing each recommendation at. In situations where multiple policies and institutions have a bearing on the issue, you may need to group different sets of recommendations for different advocacy targets, for example:
- ‘The NGO Forum calls on central government to:’
- ‘The NGO Forum calls on municipal authorities to:’
- ‘The NGO Forum calls on the International Monetary Fund to:’
- Select the two to three most important recommendations. These should be placed prominently at the top of briefing papers or in the executive summary of your research report or in press releases. That way your target audience knows what you want them to do from the start – in case they never read beyond page 1!
To ensure that there is real ownership of an advocacy initiative by the network or organisations involved, make sure that the formulation of recommendations is undertaken in a participatory manner.
Writing letters to policy-makers
TOP TIPS for writing letters to policy-makers
- Be brief – a maximum of 1 to 2 sides or you risk either being ignored or a junior person reading and responding rather than your main target.
- In some cases, if you have particularly compelling information that supports your request, you can include it as an attachment. However, try to keep attachments short (for example an executive summary or a 2–4-sided briefing), recognising that most policy-makers are too busy to read lengthy reports.
- Leading paragraph – state your purpose for writing the letter and deliver your message immediately. Don’t be afraid to put your request for action upfront.
- Information about yourself – explain who you are and who you are representing (your organisation, a member of a coalition, yourself as a private citizen, and so on). If your audience does not know you well, make it clear how you are connected to the issue you are raising.
- Seek to establish some common ground with the target in the letter and ideally build from there.
- Be very clear about a small number of key points (usually a maximum of three) that you wish to communicate and do it clearly and succinctly – don’t include too much policy detail, and no rambling! Refer to established facts and positions taken by respected groups. Use statistics strategically, but sparingly.
- Provide evidence that others support your views. If you have significant public support for your position, make sure that the decision-makers know that, for example the number of supporters who have signed petitions or postcards, or attended rallies. The same is true if you have the support of professional bodies and/or businesses.
- Be specific about what action you want the target to take.
- Acknowledge your audience – recognise your reader as someone whose opinion matters. Thank them for taking time to read your letter, and show your appreciation for any past support. Offer to provide additional information or assistance in the future.
Negotiation skills are key when lobbying. Good negotiating skills enable you to ensure that others understand the point you are making and help you to persuade others to take your suggested course of action. Bad habits in negotiating can quickly alienate those you are speaking to and undermine your message.
Again, you will need to make tactical choices in the same way that you did when designing the overall advocacy strategy. For example do you start with your maximum demand, as you’re highly likely to be negotiated down from that position and required to accept less? Or does that risk you being seen as unrealistic and dismissed from the start?
Here are some helpful and unhelpful approaches to negotiating (it is important to remember that some of these will be culturally specific, so adapt accordingly).
TOOLHelpful and unhelpful approaches to negotiating
Win-win: seek solutions that will be beneficial to both parties. Be willing to compromise on some areas, but be very clear about what you will not negotiate on. Try to think of what you can offer so that the other party is satisfied.
Ask questions so that you can identify areas
Be respectful in tone. This puts you in control without having to battle to speak. ‘I would like
Test and summarise. Ensure that everyone has understood and interpreted things in the same way and agrees on action points. This helps build trust and avoids confusion and relationship breakdown later on.
Explain your aims and rationale to the other
Be sensitive to a change in mood, to unexpected revelations or reactions, to defensive responses, to boredom or lack of interest – and change your approach accordingly.
Know when to stop. Be aware of how far you
Listen and engage. Listen to the other party’s concerns and try to respond to them. Let them speak first if necessary.
Build trust. Ensure that your information is credible and reliable and that you’re well informed. Be honest, treat the other party with integrity – don’t burn your bridges!
Emotive approach: using subjective or emotive words adds nothing to your case but simply accuses the other side of being unfair or unreasonable.
Defend/attack spirals: if you do not listen to the other point of view and simply defend your own position, an argument can result and it is harder
Listing arguments, reasons and information to strengthen the proposal can annoy the listener
Counter-proposals: if you counter every suggestion by the other party with one of your own, it will become harder to persuade them.
Anger: shouting at someone could discredit your message and suggest that you have weak arguments.
Ridicule/disrespect will cause the other person to close down and they may even end the meeting early.
Interruptions can annoy the person speaking and others. The risk is that they will think you are not listening, and they may do the same to you.
Making it personal can lead to people being offended and insulted and does not necessarily address the problem.
Exaggerating the facts or making unsubstantiated claims will seriously undermine your credibility.
Ignoring the inputs and points of view expressed by your target audience when you make your own inputs is not helpful.
TOP TIP for successful lobbying5
- Be clear on what you want.
- Know the views of the people to be lobbied.
- Make clear what’s in it for them – why should they change their views?
- Be timely – the earlier you start trying to influence a process or policy, the greater the chance of success.
- Know who will represent the decision-makers at the meeting and what their roles are. Are there any disagreements or power struggles among them?
- Always research your lobby targets. Use your analysis of their values, knowledge and experience to inform your tactics.
Develop your messages
- Be simple and explicit.
- What is the issue?
- What do you want them to do about it? Have clear, concrete policy ‘asks’, informed by your evidence.
- Propose a solution – don’t just be ‘anti’ something; solutions should be informed by what is feasible.
- Use examples that will engage their interest – make it human, use real-life examples.
- Prepare a short brief (maximum 2 pages) – with a large typeface so it is easily readable.
- Work together – think about lobbying with other organisations, as it can strengthen your negotiating position.
- Get experts on board: the need for expert knowledge is crucial to tax matters in order to formulate alternative policies and to study the costs and benefits of current plans.
- Involve people and communities who are directly affected by the issue – they are often the most powerful advocates!
- Involve someone who used to work in the tax field. For example Tax Justice Network (TJN) uses ex-bankers and ex-heads of tax havens to demonstrate that they know from the inside that some of the practices are unjust.
- Agree your agenda and arguments before the meeting – if you argue among yourselves in the meeting it will reduce your chances of success.
- Ensure that the chairperson does not allow one person to dominate the meeting.
Plan and rehearse
- Know who’s going to say what – if there’s more than one of you, always have a pre-meeting to prepare for the main one.
- Know your stuff – it’s essential for your credibility. However, if an issue arises in the meeting that you don’t know the answer to, politely say that you will get back to them after you’ve consulted your senior advisors – never make it up!
- Consider the best time and place for a meeting.
- Be sure you know the venue.
- Arrive on time.
- Dress appropriately.
- Be polite, acknowledge status.
- Give name/business cards.
- Focus on your most important concerns first and leave smaller issues to the end.
- If by any chance your meeting is interrupted or finished earlier, you will have delivered the key messages.
- Try not to let the meeting get off track.
- If the target digresses or tries to change the subject, politely but firmly bring them back to the topic in hand.
- Know what issues you are prepared to compromise on and where you are not.
- Plan for different kinds of responses.
- Summarise progress at various points.
Use negotiating techniques
- Be conscious of your body language.
- Relax, keep your voice calm – this may vary between cultures, so as usual the advice is to know your context.
- Listen actively – don’t interrupt, demonstrate empathy. If you don’t hear what they are saying, you won’t pick up on what the ‘sticking points’ are and what you particularly need to persuade them on. Plus, everyone likes to be listened to so don’t alienate them needlessly.
- Ask questions.
- Keep to time – brief is best; don’t get distracted, stick to your plan.
Build relationships: the messenger can be as important as the message
- Consistency of personnel builds trust and transparency.
- Being a credible and reliable source of information makes people listen.
- Be friendly, use social skills.
- Keep in regular contact.
- Focus on action:
- Lobbying is not a talking shop so seek something concrete from the meeting, ideally a commitment for ‘action’ from your target.
- Finish a meeting by suggesting that another one would be useful.
- Be aware that some opponents will try to ‘shoot the messenger’ so be prepared for attempts to discredit you.
Your advocacy doesn’t finish at the end of the meeting!
- Discuss whether your objectives were achieved. Seek to establish which tactics worked and which didn’t so you can learn for the next meeting.
- Assess the target’s response to you.
- Establish whether you’ve learnt any new information that is relevant to your future strategy.
- Plan your next steps.
- Share the meeting’s outcomes or minutes with relevant people in your organisation or network.
- Write a thank you email or letter to the other party summarising the main points and reminding them of any actions that were agreed.
- After a reasonable time period, contact them again to see whether they have done what they promised and if you can be of further assistance.
Communicate with your target audience when lobbying
Knowing your target audience and seeing an issue from their perspective are key elements of lobbying. You are more likely to persuade people to support your cause if you put yourself in their shoes.
So how you present and communicate your proposal ought to depend on your analysis of
the target audience.
Here are some of the questions you will need to answer before preparing your ‘pitch’ to a target audience:6
- What are their current interests and priorities?
- How well informed are they on the issue(s) addressed by your proposal?
- Where do they stand on the issue or problem you are addressing and the solutions you are proposing?
- What aspects of your proposal are they likely to question?
- What will motivate them to support your proposal?
- How could they benefit from your proposal?
- Will they incur any risks or losses by supporting your proposal?