Meeting with Legislators
Decision makers want to know what’s important to their constituents. Having face-to-face meetings with your advocates and their legislators is an effective way to humanize your topic, make it relevant for the decision makers, and encourage these leaders to commit to this issue. Whenever possible, schedule an in-person meeting with key decision makers and supporters from their districts. Identify the right advocates for each target based on interest and the ability to share a credible point of view. Make it easy for advocates to make the most of their visits by preparing briefing packets with talking points, key tips, and a one-pager to leave behind that overviews the issue and contains your contact information. See more tips below.
Whether you meet with representatives in local home offices or take a special trip to the state capitol, you can have a strong impact when you can look legislators in the eye and answer their questions about your campaign, share personal stories, and discuss proposed solutions. But don’t underestimate the value of meeting with the staff of decision makers. Staff are the lifeblood of a policy maker’s office and are key to keeping your issue in front of the decision maker.
Below are some helpful tips to make the most of your meetings.
Save the Date
Making an appointment is easy—simply call your legislators, and talk to the office’s scheduler. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Be flexible with the date and time. Legislators have busy schedules, and meetings usually last 15 to 45 minutes.
- You may end up meeting with a staffer rather than a legislator, which is fine. Many legislators rely heavily on staff to keep them informed and make decisions about issues.
- Choose one to two issues to discuss so you can talk about them comprehensively in a short amount of time.
- Feel free to bring a colleague or an advocate with you who can also offer their insight on the issues. Be cognizant that bringing an advocate simply to demonstrate diversity can come across as a token appearance. Be sure to have a strong role for each person engaged in the meeting.
Essentials for Success
Nervous about how the conversation will go or what to say? Bring these essentials to the meeting to help it run smoothly:
- A pen or pencil to take notes during your meeting.
- A business card to leave with your representative.
- Cameras, so you can share photos showcasing how this issue directly impacts children in your community or take a picture with your legislator while you are visiting his or her office.
- A one-pager with key statistics about the issue and more information about your campaign. Include a list of key influencers who are also involved and a way that the policymaker can be more involved to help serve as a champion for your cause.
- A clear “ask” for the meeting to move the conversation forward—for instance, a site visit, newspaper column or op-ed signature, or asking the legislator to urge the governor or mayor to take an administrative action. All of these may be structured to use non-lobbying funds.
Remember: your visit won’t be considered lobbying if you keep the conversation focused on your campaign and the general policy issue you are working to resolve without discussing legislative solutions. But you may discuss administrative actions without the communication being treated as a lobbying cost. If you have a specific request surrounding a piece of legislation, that would require separate lobbying funds to support the visit itself or the supplemental materials created for the meeting.
Make the Most of Your One-on-One
- Dress professionally when visiting your representative.
- Introduce yourself, and talk about your position on the issues you have prepared to discuss.
- Share personal stories and examples to illustrate how the issues affect you and your community. Facts and statistics are easy to forget, but personal stories remain in people’s memories.
- Listen to your legislator’s response, and be prepared to answer questions. If you cannot answer his or her questions, jot a note down and get back to him or her.
- Even if you do not see eye to eye, always be respectful and polite.
- Research your representative’s stance and voting history on the issues you plan to discuss, as well as opposing viewpoints, to help you frame your talking points.
Thank Your Legislator
- After taking time out of his or her very busy schedule, your member will definitely appreciate a brief thank-you card or email.
- A follow-up note is also a great opportunity to remind them of the stories you shared, your stance on the issues you discussed, and how their actions as an elected official could help impact your community.
- Based on the in-person response to your request or “ask,” determine what appropriate steps to take in following up with your legislator and whether you need to repeat the ask or share additional information to bring them on board.
- You may end up meeting with a member of your legislator’s staff, which is fine. Decision makers rely heavily on feedback from their staffers, especially on policy issues. Treat everyone in the office with the same level of respect, and be sure to share information with anyone you encounter.
- Come prepared for your meeting with fact sheets, business cards, cameras, and—most importantly—a clear “ask” for the meeting.
- Do share personal stories and experiences as it pertains to your issue.
- Remember to thank your legislator or staff members, using this follow-up opportunity to reiterate your “ask.”