In an era when electronic communications can be overwhelming, face-to-face meetings with legislators add value to the advocacy process. Your legislators want to hear from you, their constituent, about the important issues facing the district, the state, and the country. This document aims to assist you in meeting with your legislators.
Before the Meeting: Things to Consider
- What is the purpose and desired format of the meeting (i.e., state association meeting, facility visit, visit to the local congressional office)? What issues are you presenting?
- Are other local groups working on this issue, and, if so, should you include them in the meeting to increase your collective voice?
Find out When Your Lawmakers will be In Their Local Offices
Each year, Congress takes several "District Work Period" breaks, during which they work out of their local offices rather than on Capitol Hill. Members are also frequently at home in August, around holidays, and at the beginning and/or end of each week. Unfortunately, the House and Senate do not necessarily follow the same calendar.
Request a Meeting
Contact the legislator's local office, which can be found on his or her individual website at United States House of Representatives or United States Senate. Ask for the contact information of the person who schedules in-district meetings for the member of Congress. You will need to submit your meeting request in writing, even if you speak to someone in the legislator's office.
Review a sample appointment request letter. In the letter, explain the purpose of your visit, identify participants in the meeting, and suggest possible meeting dates. Be flexible! The more flexible you are about the date, the more likely it is that your meeting can be included on the legislator's schedule. If you don't hear back from a member of your legislator's staff, be persistent as well as polite. Sometimes requests get lost, so don't be afraid to follow-up by sending an e-mail or calling the office.
Confirm your appointment with the legislator's office one to two weeks prior to the meeting. Legislators' schedules change quickly, so confirming the details of the meeting is always a good idea.
Be Prepared for Your Visit
- Learn as much as you can about your legislator's background. For example, determine his or her political party, the Congressional committees on which he or she serves, and personal facts such as hometown, education, and profession. Such information can provide insights into the legislator's view of the world. Most of this information can be found through on the individual's congressional website (at United States House of Representatives or United States Senate).
- Know your issue well and be familiar with how it affects your patients and the professions. Know all sides of the argument. Have the materials for your lawmakers in hand as you depart for your visits.
- If your colleagues are joining you at the meeting, be sure to let them know all of the details of the day, time, and location.
- Discuss the issue(s) to be presented at the meeting ahead of time and decide who will take the lead in presenting the issue(s). This is particularly important if there are a lot of first-time advocacy participants attending the meeting.
- Determine who will compile, print, and carry the materials to be given to the legislator. If possible, bring a copy for the legislator and a copy for his or her aide.
The Day of the Meeting
When it is time to meet with your legislator, be punctual and patient. Lawmakers have very busy schedules; a late arrival may mean that you miss your appointment. However, you may also need to be flexible. It is not uncommon for a lawmaker to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted, due to the member's crowded schedule. Be flexible if your time is cut short; offer to accompany your lawmaker to his or her next appointment so you can talk further.
Present Your Issues and Then Ask For Something to be Done!
- Start the meeting by introducing all of the participants. Discuss where you work and live and what you do.
- Share the materials you have compiled on the policy positions. Walk the legislator through the key points of the specific subject of the meeting.
- Concentrate on only one or two issues and be organized in the meeting. Use personal stories to underscore a point about the issue that brings the concern home to the lawmaker's district or state (e.g., how full federal funding of IDEA is needed to continue to provide students with proper education). Use only part of your allotted time to present your issue. This will leave time for you to hear the lawmaker's thoughts on the subject or to answer any of his or her questions.
- Be careful not to antagonize or lecture the lawmaker; conversely, don't say only what you think the lawmaker wants to hear. Be straightforward, but courteous, in expressing your views and be receptive to the lawmaker's questions and comments. If the lawmaker doesn't volunteer his or her position on the issue, ask!
- Don't feel that you need to know the answer to every question. If you are asked a question that you can't answer, don't guess. Instead, say that you will look into the question and give the lawmaker an answer as soon as possible. The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns will be happy to work with you on a response to the legislator.
- Never discuss or make a campaign contribution when meeting with a lawmaker about a legislative issue. In fact, don't mention political contributions at all.
- Be sure to politely ask your lawmaker to do something! Lawmakers meet many constituents, but they won't know how to help unless you clearly state what you want them to do. For example, you might say, "I hope you'll support ending family immigation detention or, "Please reject spending bills to build a wall along the U.S.-mexico border." Make your "ask" clear and concise.
- If the opportunity presents itself, take a picture of the group with the legislator. Please share these with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concers at firstname.lastname@example.org; such photos make a great addition to our newsletter and website to encourage other supporters to schedule meetings of their own!
- Finally, offer to be a resource to your legislator on any issues that may arise in the future.
After Your Visit
- Send a thank you letter and re-emphasize key points you discussed during the meeting. Be sure to provide any additional information you may have promised and send a copy of any pictures taken with the legislator.
- Let MOGC staff know how the meeting went by e-mailing email@example.com calling 202-832-1780. This information will be crucial to MOGC staff in planning future lobbying efforts and will ensure that our message is consistent.
- Thank all of your colleagues who participated in the meeting. Share any pictures that were taken and ask for feedback on how to improve future meetings and how to continue to build the relationship with the legislator.
How to Continue to be an Advocate
If you developed a rapport with your lawmaker, consider building a relationship by:
- Offering to host a site visit by your lawmaker to your office or department to better educate them about the issue;
- Attending the lawmaker's local fundraisers or events;
- Continuing to contact your legislator through MOGC action alerts;
- Visiting your legislators in their Capitol Hill offices when you are in Washington, DC;
If you have any concerns or questions, please contact the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns at 202-832-1780 or firstname.lastname@example.org.