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Tips on Meeting with Your Member of Congress

by Civilian Exposure

How do I request a meeting with my member of Congress? What happens at these meetings?

Planning the Meeting

Tip 1 – Asking for the Meeting: To request a meeting, you should first get the contact information for the office’s scheduler. Call the legislator’s home district office (not the D.C. office) and ask for the scheduler’s name and email address. Fax and/or email a written request to the scheduler. If you don’t have a fax machine, don’t worry — an email will suffice. The meeting request should include the issue you plan to discuss, a range of times you can meet and your contact information.

Tip 2 – Getting a Response: Elected officials have busy schedules and their office staff will be sure to remind you of this. It may take a few hours, a few days or even a few weeks before you get a response to your request. If you don’t hear back within a couple of days, forward the initial request to the scheduler and include a follow-up message. If an additional two–three days pass without a response, give the office a call. Ask for the scheduler by name — you’ll likely be prompted to leave a message. Keep politely pushing. Continue emailing and calling until the scheduler responds.

Tip 3 – Who to Meet With: Let’s say the member of Congress has a busy schedule but offers a meeting with one of their staffers. Should you take it? Yes, you should accept this offer — a meeting with a staffer is the next best thing! Ask to meet with a member of the legislative staff. Legislative staffers are most likely to influence your member of Congress. You may even inquire about the possibility of meeting a staff member who works on military or environmental issues.

Tip 4 – Who Should Participate: The best meetings involve between four and eight attendees. If you have more than eight participants, not everyone will  have a chance to speak. Get the meeting date/time confirmed first. If they ask about attendees, tell the scheduler you would be happy to provide a full list of attendees once you have confirmed a meeting date and time.

Tip 5 – What if You’re Denied A Meeting: Should you just show up at their office? Absolutely. Policymakers are public officials — it’s their job to represent you. See if your district office has open office hours designated for constituent services. You can give the scheduler a heads-up after your meeting request is denied and relay the date and time you plan to visit the office. When you arrive at the office, ask to speak with any available staff members and leave behind materials — fact sheets, a summary of your position and your contact info — for them to pass on to your member of Congress. Remember to behave in a professional, respectful and courteous manner during your visit.

Tip 6 – What Should You Provide At the Meeting: Stories are our most powerful tools for change. Elected officials love constituents’ stories and will often relay them to Congress. You should also ask your member of Congress for one thing and one thing only. It can be difficult to pinpoint just one ask, especially if you’re coordinating with other constituents, but it’s essential to keeping the meeting focused. Designate one member of your group to make the ask. Your talking points should all support this ask. An “ask” is the request you are making of your member of Congress. Whether you want support for a particular piece of legislation or want to express your opinion on an issue, you should have only one ask when you meet with your member of Congress. Your “ask” should be clear and concise and should request a concrete action or position.

Tip 7 – Prepping for the Meeting: You should know your legislator’s voting record on the issue you plan to address. It’s also helpful to have a good sense of your Congress member’s legislative priorities. What issues does your representative consistently fight for or against? How did your representative get into politics? What outside interests does this person have? Build on anything that will help you relate to your member of Congress.

During the Meeting

Tip 1 – What to Bring:

  • Proof of identification (you may need to show an ID at the door)
  • Notes on what you plan to say
  • Something to take notes with during the meeting
  • A digital camera or phone (to document the meeting)
  • Materials to leave behind (fact sheets, business cards, etc.)

Tip 2 – What to Expect: Meetings with a legislator can be as short as 10–15 minutes, though meetings with legislative staffers may last longer. Every meeting is different, but here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Enter the office, introduce yourselves and shake hands with any staff members you meet.
  • Begin the conversation by reminding your member of Congress why you are there.
  • Every member of your group should take a couple of minutes to introduce themselves and share their stories.
  • The note taker you’ve assigned should take notes the entire time.
  • One person should make the ask.
  • At the meeting’s conclusion, thank your member of Congress and promise to follow up.
  • Ask for a photo with staff members and participants to document the meeting.
  • Leave behind information on the issue you’ve discussed and exchange business cards.

Tip 2 – How to Steer the Conversation: It’s entirely possible that your member of Congress will be interested in discussing something other than the issue you hope to address. If this is the case, courteously bring the conversation back to your ask. You are there for a reason — remind your representative of this.

Tip 3 – What if You Don’t Have All the Answers: You might not know how to answer every question, and that’s OK. Be honest. And, offer to find the answer and report back. Write down the question so you don’t forget about it. Refer your member to organizations that do have the answers, such as Free Press and our allies.

The Follow Up

Tip 1 – Thank You Notes: Immediately send a thank-you note (via email and snail mail) to the office. In the ensuing weeks and months, follow your representative’s actions on the issue you spoke about. If he/she votes favorably in the future, continue to send thank-you notes. It’s important to express our support when our members of Congress get things right.

Tip 2 – When to Expect Action: Wait a few weeks before following up with a staff member. The staffer should be able to keep you in the loop and update you on any decisions or actions.

Tip 3 – Ensuring Staff Members Deliver Your Message: It’s the staffer’s job to keep his or her boss informed about what constituents are thinking. Follow up with the staff member that you met with if you haven’t heard back within a few weeks, but don’t call or email every single day. While the issue that you discussed is of critical importance, staffers are dealing with a lot of critically important issues. It’s important to strike a balance. Sending follow-up requests every other week until you hear back is perfectly appropriate. If the matter is pressing (e.g., a vote is scheduled in a few days), call the office and ask to speak with someone about the issue.Meet with other constituents at a mutually agreed-on site 15 minutes prior to the meeting time to review your talking points, assign someone to take notes and go over any last-minute preparations.

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