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Working with Congress: Activist Milestone #7

Meet Face-to-Face with Your Member of Congress

For 33 years, RESULTS volunteers have demonstrated the power of political will generated by citizens who regularly and actively interact with their elected officials. Relationship- building through face-to-face meetings is essential to the ongoing process of educating and emotionally engaging our members of Congress. By relating in person, talking about the issues, and telling our powerful stories, we invite them to become champions for the end of poverty.

A truly powerful meeting with a member of Congress is built on much more than factual information and straightforward requests. It involves speaking, listening, and asking questions in ways that invite us and the member of Congress to be vulnerable, to be moved, and to be sensitive to the very real anguish of poverty.

Use the following tips and resources to plan and practice for upcoming meetings with your members of Congress. If you need information or support, contact your Regional Coordinator or a member of the RESULTS grassroots or legislative staff. Also, check out our PowerPoint for additional guidance or click on the additional resources below.

Tips on Scheduling a Meeting with Your Member of Congress

  1. Call in advance. If possible, call at least a month or more in advance to schedule your meeting. Refer to the congressional calendar on the websites of the Senate (www.senate.gov) and House (www.house.gov) to determine when your member of Congress may be in Washington or back home in your district.
  2. Be prepared with information. Make a list of what you want to say to the scheduler, the staff person in charge of booking appointments for your member of Congress. Having notes in front of you during the call will definitely boost your confidence. The scheduler will ask for the date(s) you had in mind, what you would like to speak to the congressperson about, and approximately how many people will be attending, so be prepared with that information.
  3. Get connected. Call the Capitol Switchboard in Washington, DC at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your member of Congress's office, or dial the number directly if you have it. You may need to dial the local office number to schedule a local meeting. If you do not know who your representative or senators are, visit the RESULTS website, enter your zip code, and you will be linked to contact information for your members of Congress.
  4. Ask to speak to the scheduler. When you reach the Washington or local office, ask to speak to the scheduler. If he or she is unavailable, leave a message requesting a meeting and a reply to your request. Keep making follow-up calls until you speak to the scheduler directly. This could take eight or ten calls, so do not get discouraged! Congressional staff members are very busy, but ultimately they work for you, and it is fully within your rights to ask to meet with your member of Congress. Some offices may ask that you submit a written request first. If so, ask if it is better to e-mail or fax the request in. Use the sample letter below for guidance on drafting a request letter.
  5. Schedule your meeting. Once you reach the scheduler directly, ask to have a face-to-face meeting with your member of Congress and the aide who works on your specific issue. Offer to send a written request by fax or e-mail, depending on the scheduler's preference. You may refer to the sample request letters below. If the scheduler is not able to make an appointment right away, be sure to ask when you will be contacted with a date and time.
  6. Call again to confirm. Once you have scheduled your meeting, thank the scheduler and inform him or her that you will reconfirm the meeting a week in advance. Make a note to do so.
  7. Meet regularly with your members of Congress. If you do not get a face-to-face meeting with your legislator right away, be persistent until you do, and then make a habit of meeting regularly - two to three times per year.

Sample Letters to a Scheduler

Editable sample letter for domestic activists

Editable sample letter for global activists

Tips for Achieving a Powerful Meeting with Your Member of Congress

Before the meeting:

  • Do your homework. Find out what issues your representatives or senators care about. You can do this by taking a look at their websites (available at http://www.house.gov/ or http://www.senate.gov/), asking their local offices for their newsletters, or finding out what congressional committees they sit on. This information is available on their websites or on the RESULTS website (after you do a search for your member of Congress, underneath his or her photo, click on "info," and then choose the "Committee" tab).
  • Be clear about the purpose of meeting with your members of Congress. The purpose of your meetings should be to powerfully engage your members of Congress on issues of poverty and inspire them to action. You are there to move them closer to becoming champions for the end of poverty. This is a process that requires passion, persistence, and good organization on your part. You want your meeting to be a meeting that your legislator does not forget.
  • Be prepared: create an agenda that is limited in scope and includes stories, photos, and videos or DVDs. Keep in mind that the story or video you include should only be several minutes long, so choose wisely. Also, know the other side of the coin. There may be very articulate arguments against your request. Be prepared and do your homework on any opposition. Have talking points prepared to defend your position. Refer to the sample agenda below as you map out roles, responsibilities, and plans for your meeting.
  • Practice for the meeting. After you create an agenda, each person with a speaking part should create a brief two- or three-minute laser talk and practice it with another person. Be brief, clear, and to the point - and don't be afraid to show your passion.
  • Choose a manager for the meeting. The manager will keep the group on task, keep track of time, and make sure all the requests are covered.
  • Choose one person to be the secretary. The secretary's role is to take notes and write down any commitments your member of Congress makes. Record the member's reactions and objections, especially highlighting when he or she is particularly attentive or enthusiastic. Following the meeting, the secretary can coordinate thank you notes as well as follow-up plans.
  • Share inspiration within your group. Prior to the meeting, allow time for group members to spend a few minutes speaking about why they each care about the issues, and the outcomes they hope to achieve. This will help you set your head and hearts to the task you're about to undertake.

At the Meeting:

  • Connect with your representatives, senators, and aides. Think of some questions beforehand that you would like to ask your member of Congress or aide. The purpose is to have them inspire themselves by speaking about something they have done, experienced, or believed in passionately. You might do this by asking why they got into public service or by pointing out something you have learned about their past and asking them to share about it. Briefly share your own vision and concerns.
  • Acknowledge your member of Congress. It is rare that our representatives and senators hear the words "thank you" from their constituents. Always thank them for the supportive actions they have taken or just be sure to thank them for taking the time to meet with you. And taking time to thank a good legislative aide, especially in front of the aide's boss, is always appreciated.
  • Be concise in stating why you are there. Summarize your concern about the issues in five minutes or less. Use your moving story or short video to provide a more personal angle on the issue.
  • As necessary, summarize opponents' arguments on the issue. Never attack. If you don't know the answer or how to respond, tell the aide or congressperson you will get further information.
  • Use the stories, personal accounts, or videos you have prepared to present the big and small picture. One of the most powerful ways we can advocate for our issues is to have someone speak who has been directly affected by these issues and can tell their experiences. If you do not have someone with personal experience, share the story of a friend or simply tell them why you care about this issue.
  • Make specific, clear requests, and ask for an answer. Often, the main reason constituents have unsatisfactory encounters with their elected officials is that their requests are not clear and specific enough. Your members of Congress need to know what you want them to do (e.g., what bill you want them to sponsor, etc.). Make your request in the form or a yes or no answer; this will elicit some kind of response, which is what you want. In addition to the specific requests you bring, do not be afraid to ask your representative or senators what else they think they could do on your issue, whether they say yes or no to your original request.
  • Know your next steps. At the meeting, ensure that the next steps for follow-up are clear, regarding what your group will do next, what the legislator/aide will do next, and which aide you should contact for follow-up. If your member of Congress has agreed to take action on your initial request, be prepared to ask him or her to take a more profound action. For example, if your member has agreed to sign on to a piece of legislation, ask if he or she would be willing to talk to other members within a committee or state delegation to encourage their support. Or perhaps your legislator would consider writing an op-ed for the newspaper on the issue. Explore the options.
  • Leave behind concise materials. Put brief summaries of background information and requests in a folder and leave them with the aide. See that the folder and each page of information are clearly labeled with the RESULTS name, website address, and your contact information.

After the Meeting:

  • Send prompt thank you notes. In your letters to your member of Congress and aide, go over the issues you discussed and confirm the requests you made to your representative or senator.
  • Fill out the Lobby Report form. Use the RESULTS Lobby Planning and Report Form as a guide for your follow-up and as a record of your group's activity with your members of Congress. Send a copy to the Domestic or Global grassroots staff person listed on the form or report back on your meeting directly online so the staff can know where you are on building champions of your member of Congress.
  • Follow up on requests. The most brilliant meeting with a member of Congress or aide is futile without timely and persistent correspondence with the aide to make sure actions are taken and requests are followed through.
  • Be a resource on poverty issues. Members of Congress and their aides will appreciate your trustworthy efforts to become involved and will look to you for information about poverty issues. Keep in regular contact with them by sharing updated information, stories, and opportunities for action. Your consistent meetings and correspondences with your representatives, senators, and key aides are crucial to motivating and equipping them to be champions for the end of poverty.

Sample Agenda for a Meeting with a Member of Congress

1. Introductions. A specific partner should facilitate this opening section.

Name of volunteer: _________________________

When will you practice? _____________________

Key steps within the Introductions:

  • Introduce RESULTS briefly.
  • Allow each participant to say who they are and what they do in the community.
  • Ask the member of Congress and aides to introduce themselves with a specific question, such as, "What was your vision in coming to Congress?"
  • Overview the issues you would like to discuss and ideally give the member of Congress and aides a typed agenda and requests for the meeting.

2. Acknowledgements. Acknowledge your member of Congress for any previous actions.

Name of volunteer: ________________________

When will you practice? __________________

If your group needs information about a specific representative or senator, consult a recent Legislative Scorecard or contact the RESULTS legislative staff at (202) 783-7100.

3. Presentation of our issues and requests. This is a great chance to involve all of your volunteers and community members, and perhaps show a DVD or video. Strategize on which issues you would like your member of Congress to take more of a leadership role. Choose one or two issues to feature, and work with the RESULTS staff to come up with powerful, specific requests.

Issue #1: _______________________

Specific request: _____________________________________

Issue #2: _______________________

Specific request: _____________________________________

Work on speaking the issue powerfully with others in your group.

Name of volunteer: ________________

Issue: _____________________ When will you practice? ____________

Name of volunteer: ________________

Issue: _____________________ When will you practice? ____________

Make specific requests and ask for their answer right then. If they are unwilling to make a commitment, set a date to follow up. Also, carefully record any questions, objections, promises, or concerns.

4. Plan for follow-up. During the meeting, set a specific timeline for follow-up with the congressional staff. Be sure to have someone record your plan for follow-up.

Issue/Request: _______________________

Key aide? ______________________ Follow-up Date_______

Issue/Request: _______________________

Key aide? ______________________ Follow-up Date_______

5. Send a "Thank You" letter.

Name of volunteer: ________________________

When will you send the letter? _______________

6. Complete RESULTS Lobby Planning and Report Form.

Name of volunteer: ________________________

Date sent to RESULTS staff member(s): ____________­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

7. Follow-up. Be sure to follow up with the appropriate aide(s). Without follow-up, your effort in scheduling a meeting and speaking powerfully about our issues could be wasted.

Aide #1: _______________________

Specific request(s): ___________________________________

Name of volunteer: _______________________

When will you follow up? ____________________

Aide #2: _______________________

Specific request(s): ___________________________________

Name of volunteer: _______________________

When will you follow up? ____________________