How to Conduct a Day on the Hill

Front view of Minnesota Capitol building on a bright day with green grass, leafy trees, and visitors climbing the front steps.

A Day on the Hill – or a day at City Hall or the County Offices – is one component of an advocacy strategy that helps to establish your presence as an organization with information, experience, expertise and interest in your particular policy issues. 

Why Have a Day on the Hill?

Your organization’s ability to recruit, inform, engage, and mobilize supporters for a policy position, demonstrates your centrality on the issue. A Day on the Hill is an opportunity for your supporters to see that they are part of a bigger and significant effort, that their voices are an important part of the power behind your key messages in support of or opposition to a policy. Constituents will be able to have direct contact with their own House and Senate members which shows that their input has significant impact on the responsiveness of the leaders in their own district.

A Day on the Hill allows a nonprofit to expand and underscore efforts to inform and persuade elected officials to support your position. In addition, participants become more familiar with the place, people, and process and may be more willing to work with their elected leaders in the future.

Allied organizations will see the value of your organization as an active player and be increasingly interested in work with you on common ground issues. In some instances, a well designed and implemented Day on the Hill creates an opportunity for your organization or collaborative to gain media attention. You can either create a press event as part of the day or your presence alone may enable you to meet one on one with members of the press to talk about the who, what, and why of your work at the Capitol.

Why Not to Do a Day on the Hill

Nonprofits with an issue or position that is not likely to galvanize activity from many people may not want to do a Day on the Hill, i.e. it may be technical and not compelling to any but a few who understand it. If your organization is not ready to build a major event around your issue, it may not be wise to organize a Day on the Hill. You may still have  a lot of work to do on issue development, base building, and organizational capacity before you are able to assemble a large number of people at the Capitol to increase presence and pressure for your policy position.

If others are already working on this issue and position, it may be your best strategy to join their efforts and expand the overall support for the policy goal. 

Timing is also important. It makes the most sense to draw people to the Capitol when the issues is positioned for action. If you are working on an issue that isn’t likely to be addressed by the legislature, you may want to wait for more opportune timing so that you influence legislators when they are in decision making mode.

What are the Essential Ingredients of an Effective Day on the Hill?

  • Clarity of Purpose: Be sure that you know what you are trying to achieve. This means having some clearly articulated goals for key messages, targeted participation (who and how many) and legislative impact.
  • A Format that Suits your Goals: Choose a strategy for designing your event that will have the highest value for your overall advocacy campaign. Do you want a large gathering and speakers who will inform and excite your participants and the elected officials and staff at the Capitol? Do you prefer an informational gathering for your supporters and then an opportunity for them to attend pre-scheduled meetings with their own representatives? Do you want a press event that is a centerpiece of the Day on the Hill and that carries your message beyond the Capitol as well as to elected officials?
  • Early and Intensive Planning: your organization will need three to six months, in most cases, for the design and convening of a Day on the Hill. Planning needs to include a focus on:
    • What the impact will be of a Day on the Hill to your overall and ongoing advocacy work?
    • Who is the sponsor? Will you work alone or in coalition? Who are the partners you want and how will you recruit them?
    • What is the key message, what is the target audience and whom will you mobilize?
    • What are the date, time and place that will be most advantages to your effort?
    • What schedule of communications will you have with your supporters to prepare and engage them?
    • What program and schedule for the day will have the optimal impact?
    • What materials do you need to prepare and distribute for staff for the event, participants in the event, elected officials and their staff and the press?