July 2014 U.S. Poverty Action
Set Up Face-to-Face Meetings with Members of Congress in August and Include the “Real Experts” on Poverty
This month, we’re using the momentum created at the RESULTS International Conference to prepare for the next opportunity to push members of Congress on expanding economic mobility in America: meeting face-to-face with members of Congress during the August recess (August 4 – September 5). During these meetings, we will urge them to protect and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit (CTC), and Financial Security Credit. As most RESULTS volunteers know, face-to-face visits between local constituents and members of Congress is the most effective way to influence policymakers. As confirmed by the Congressional Management Foundation (graph below) – 97 percent of Congressional staff said that in-person visits from constituents have the most influence, far more than paid lobbyists!
The face-to-face meetings are far more effective when those who have firsthand experience of poverty are there to make the conversation “real” and tell stories about how these programs make a difference.
Call the Scheduler to Set Up a Face-to-Face Lobby Meeting
- Coordinate with your group to assign a specific person to request a meeting with each member of Congress (and candidates).
- Find contact information for the district office of your member of Congress through the RESULTS website. You can find the scheduler’s name under the “Staff” tab. You can also call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your representative’s/senator’s office.
- Once connected to the office, ask for the scheduler (be ready to leave a succinct voicemail).
- Use the following conversation as a template for the conversation with the scheduler. Hi, my name is _________________, and I am a constituent of Rep./Sen. _________________ from _________________. I am also a volunteer with RESULTS, a grassroots group working to end poverty. I know that Rep./Sen. _________________ values input from constituents on the issues that matter to us. With that in mind, our local RESULTS group would like to schedule meeting with Rep./Sen.______________ while he/she is home for the August recess. Would it be possible to set that up today? There will be at least ____ of us at the meeting and we would like to discuss how we can create economic mobility through protecting and strengthening tax credits for low-income working families, and discuss ways we can work together to support innovative approaches to helping families move out of poverty. What times would he/she be available to meet?
- You may be asked for a written request –use the above conversation or our online template to create a request letter/e-mail.
- If the member of Congress has no time to meet this summer, ask to schedule a meeting the next time he/she is back home. Also ask if he/she is holding any town hall meetings during the August recess.
- Be sure to note the name of the scheduler and thank that person for their assistance. If you don’t get a firm answer when you call, mention when you’ll be following up.
- Once you confirm a meeting, please contact RESULTS Director of US Poverty Campaigns Meredith Dodson ([email protected]) for coaching, materials, and tailored requests for your meeting.
For additional tips on how to schedule your face-to-face meeting, check out our Activist Milestone: Meet Face-to-Face with Your Member of Congress and our accompanying PowerPoint.
Research Shows Effective Advocacy Happens Back Home, and Stories Make a Difference
RESULTS has known for years that effective advocacy involves relationships with Congress, individual stories, and personalized communication. Similar to the research of the Congressional Management Foundation, the Advocacy Gap Report confirms what we’ve known all along – our model is effective. The report asked senior congressional staffers about which advocacy tactics work and don’t work. One of their findings said: “The majority of Hill staff we spoke with volunteered in-district activities as more important and influential than Washington, DC based activities. Rallies, constituent visits, and earned media were all mentioned specifically as tactics best based in-district for maximum impact.” Or, as Representative Jan Schakowsky said recently on a RESULTS National Conference Call:
I just love RESULTS, it’s a fantastic organization…The RESULTS volunteers that are coming to visit me now are just fantastic. All the people in the world are really lucky to have such hardworking and committed advocates working for their cause. I’ve met with RESULTS in the district and in Washington — it really makes a difference — I can’t emphasize that enough. Think about it, there are so many issues on every member of Congress' desk and even on their agenda. How do you lift something so important as this out of the pile? It’s because of the grassroots work that you do. I’ve been on both sides of the aisle as an organizer, as an activist, as a member of Congress. I think sometimes people on the activist and volunteer side aren’t aware of the impact it can make — but I am the living example of how much progress RESULTS has made in helping me be a better advocate.
In addition, one of the Advocacy Gap Report’s authors shared that personal stories that connect to something the member of Congress cares about are the single most effective tactic for moving a Member of Congress to support a policy. The research backs this up; stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts or figures alone. At this year’s RESULTS/REF International Conference, we once again had a session where “real experts” on poverty – those who have experienced poverty firsthand – told us their stories. Panelists included RESULTS Albuquerque volunteer and former Circles Leader LaNae Havens, Witness to Hunger Bonita Cuff, and Randi Schmidt of the Children’s Leadership Council. In addition, Michael Blake shared his powerful story of going, as his mother says, “from no house to The White House.” Many other RESULTS conference participants also shared their direct experience of poverty during conference sessions or while lobby meetings on Capitol Hill. Conference participants will tell you that these stories made a huge impact on them during their time in DC. As highlighted in anti-poverty publications recently, politicians writing anti-poverty legislation many times have no experience with poverty and it’s high time they stop making assumptions about poverty and start listening to the truth about it.
Up your Advocacy Game in August by Including “Real Experts” of Poverty in your Lobby Meetings
We’ll use the August recess to educate lawmakers about the realities of poverty in America and solutions that will actually make a difference in people’s lives. To maximize the impact you can create, include people in your lobby meetings who can speak to the issue of poverty from experience. Here are a few key steps to get started:
- Work with your group to brainstorm a list of people or organizations to reach out to. If you don’t have those connections, here are some potential allies to contact: Circles USA affiliates, Witnesses to Hunger, Community Action agencies, local Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs, food banks and food pantries, Head Start programs, faith communities, etc.
- Draft a Laser Talk to introduce yourself. Focus on what inspires you about RESULTS; tell a story about how you/your group have made a difference, and share about the difference it will make for them to share their expertise with policymakers.
- Pick up that phone – or even better, drop by in person – to start building those relationships with these new allies. Check out this blogpost on building relationships on our website for ideas of how to approach others to share their experiences.
- Create a plan and timeline to check in regularly with others in your RESULTS group about your outreach efforts.
- Once you have a “real expert” confirmed to attend a lobby meeting, schedule time with them to overview what to expect in the meeting and how they can share their story for maximum impact. We’ll share more resources to help train others to tell their stories in the coming weeks, and check out our Laser Talk PowerPoint and our PowerPoint on telling your story using "Public Narrative" for resources to help you train others.
On the July 2014 RESULTS National Conference Call, we’ll review the events at the recent RESULTS/REF International Conference with stories from groups across the country and talk about how we can all keep up the momentum from the conference over the next few months. The call is Saturday, July 12 at 2 pm ET. To participate, call (888) 409-6709 by 1:58 pm ET.