Five Tips for Meeting with your Members of Congress
By David T. Applegate, Research and Policy Assistant, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity
Congress’ summer recess is just around the corner. That means that throughout August, United States Senators and Representatives will be traveling throughout their home states and districts talking with their constituents. Face-to-face meetings with Members of Congress are crucial to advancing policies that support the needs of people in their districts experiencing chronic unemployment and poverty. Meeting with an elected official at his or her local office or inviting them to visit your program site is a great way to develop an ongoing relationship with your Member of Congress. Here, we give some tips for conducting meetings and site visits with elected officials and show how program providers can take advantage of these opportunities to advocate on behalf of their participants.
Schedule a meeting. You can find your local Representative or Senator’s contact information on the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate websites. When you call the district office you should ask for the contact information of the staff person responsible for the issue area you would like to discuss and then follow-up with a meeting request to that staff person via e-mail. Whether requesting a meeting at the Member of Congress’ office or extending an invitation to your program site, clarity is important! Be sure you are clear about what you would like to discuss or, in the case of a site-visit, what you would like your Member of Congress to do. Also, remember that Members of Congress and their staff are busy and receive lots of meeting requests, so be persistent. If you don’t hear back from the staff person or scheduler, then check back about the status of your request and then follow up to confirm once a meeting date has been set.
Be prepared. Prior to the meeting be sure to do all of the necessary preparation to assure your time with the elected official is a success. Think about the agenda, messaging, who will be invited (i.e. board members, other elected officials, program participants, staff), who will speak, and the policy areas you would like to focus on during your meeting. Be sure to research the position of your Member on the issues you are concerned about prior to your time with them. Of those who attend the meeting or visit, think about who would be best to share their individual stories – the program participants directly benefiting from your organization’s work are likely your program’s best advocates. And of course, be ready to answer questions and have materials ready that showcase your organization’s work and success – such as news articles, a summary of your annual report, or fact sheets about your organization’s impact on the community.
Be concise and to the point during the meeting. You might not have a lot of time with the member – particularly if you are meeting at the elected official’s office – so be as concise as possible in stating the issue and prioritize sharing stories that most demonstrate the importance of your organization’s work in the lives of your program participants and in the community. Be sure to be clear about what you would like them to do and ask questions about where the member stands on the issues you are bringing to their attention.
But don’t be afraid to show off! This is your program’s opportunity to be a cheerleader for the services your program provides and those who benefit. Share success stories and take lots of pictures with your Member of Congress and attendees. If you have the permission of the elected official, share pictures of the visit with local media sources as this can be great publicity for both your program and the Member of Congress.
Finally, follow up – and follow up again! Always send a letter to the Member of Congress thanking them for their time and any action they agreed to take. Be sure to emphasize how their action and support will affect your program and community. By checking in periodically with the staff people you met and making a continual effort to maintain and build your relationship with them, you can become a trusted resource for your Member of Congress in the future and continue to advocate for the policies that benefit your program participants and broader community.