Face-to-face meetings with your elected officials and their key staff are an extremely effective way to get to know them and to directly express your views on issues. Legislators are eager to meet with their constituents, whether they are in the capitol or their state or district
During certain periods of the year legislators are home in their districts meeting with civic groups and constituents. This is an ideal time to arrange a meeting and impress upon them the concerns of patients and their families in your community. It’s also more effective than a meeting in Washington. You’re able to bring more colleagues and demonstrate the breadth of the support and localize the concern. And, without the distractions of Washington schedules, legislators have more time for discussions.
Contact the legislator’s office. You can find the district offices of U.S. Senators or members of the House of Representatives by visiting their office web sites. You can also call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your representative’s office and request contact information for their local or district office.
Obtain legislator’s contact information. When you contact the district office, ask for the email or number where your written request for a meeting should be sent, and to who’s attention it should be sent. This will most likely be the legislator’s scheduler.
Send a written request for a meeting. Depending on your timeframe, email a written request for an appointment to your legislator’s office. Identify yourself as a constituent, list the other advocates or organizations that will be present at the meeting, and briefly explain what you would like to discuss with the legislator.
Follow up on your written request. Follow up on your request the following day, and for mailed requests a week later, by calling and asking to speak with the scheduler. Tell the scheduler who you are, where you are from, and the organizations with which you are affiliated. Inform the staffer that you are calling to follow up on a written request for a meeting with the legislator for yourself and a number of other local citizens concerned with your cause.
Schedule a Meeting. If, after your attempts, the scheduler states that the legislator will be unable to meet with you, request that the senior aide on health policy in the office meet with your group.
Call to confirm the appointment. The day prior to your scheduled appointment, call to confirm the appointment, and reaffirm that the legislator will still be unavailable to meet with you or to drop by the meeting.
Meeting with Legislators
Here are some tips for having an effective personal meeting with legislators:
• Be prepared. You will typically have 10-20 minutes to state your case and often your meeting will be interrupted. It is crucial that you are well prepared to express your views succinctly and clearly.
• Dress professionally. Don’t let appearances detract from your message or impair your credibility.
• Take materials with you. Given limited time for your meeting, it is helpful to have brief fact sheets or other material that you can leave behind with the legislator and staff. If possible, attach your business card with the material you leave with the legislator’s office.
• Be on time. Legislators are extremely busy and may be forced to skip your meeting if you are running late. If you know you are going to be late, call ahead to inform the legislator’s office. They will try their best to accommodate you if you give them a little warning.
• Be ready to meet with staff. Don’t be disappointed if you meet with staff instead of your legislator; this may happen due to last minute changes. Key staff aides are often more familiar with specific policy issues than their busy bosses, and are in the best position to listen to your point of view and subsequently advise the legislator of your concerns at precisely the right moment. Meeting with key staff is just as important as meeting personally with legislators.
Once your meeting starts, here are some important tips:
• Identify yourself as a constituent. Mention the state, district, and city or county where you vote.
• Identify yourself within the community. Inform your legislator if you are affiliated with a local group and whether you work with the legislator’s constituents. Your message will have more weight if the legislator knows that you are involved as a community leader.
• Start with a compliment. If possible, thank the legislator for their support on a prior issue or for their participation in a community event. At a minimum, thank them for meeting with you.
• Take the initiative. Meetings with legislators and staff usually begin with small talk. This puts everyone at ease. However, you need to send a signal that you have something specific to say, and not let the small talk consume too much of your limited time. State briefly, clearly and concisely what issue you want to discuss, what your position is on it and what action you want the legislator to take. Be as specific as possible. When discussing a piece of legislation, identify it by bill number, subject matter, title and/or legislative author. Follow this with facts and personal anecdotes about why the legislator should take your position.
You might try the following:
• Briefly explain NPAF’s mission and charitable works.
• “We want you to understand NPAF’s position on H.R. 2362.”
• “I’m here to explain our position in terms of my personal experiences.”
• “We have examples of how this affects constituents in your district.”
• “We want to be a local information resource on [your cause] and other health care
• “Here is a one-page handout detailing our position.”
• Focus on one or two issues. Since time is limited, don’t try to cover too many issues in one meeting, even though they are important to you. Focus on a couple of main issues; you can always leave behind fact sheets on other issues.
• Be informative, be thorough, but be concise. Again, you won’t have much time to present your case, so don’t try to chronicle the history of a complex issue in ten minutes. If the issue is complicated, say so, and leave behind or offer to provide materials that explain the problem more completely.
• Tell personal stories. Personalize the issue – explain how it affects real people! It is not always clear to legislators how their votes on bills affect their constituents. If you illustrate how individuals are personally affected, the legislator may realize the impact the bill in question could have on their constituents.
• Don’t argue over policy issues. Present your case in a straightforward and forceful manner. If the legislator disagrees with your position, agree to disagree for the moment and move on to your next topic. You can always follow up with a letter explaining your views in further detail.
• Mention other supporters. Inform the legislator about other organizations, important individuals, government officials and legislators who support your position. If you are working with a coalition, mention other coalition members. This will demonstrate broad-based support for your cause.
• Be a good listener. After you deliver your message, allow the legislator to respond. However, bring the conversation back to the issue at hand if the legislator goes off on a tangent or tries to evade it. Answer any questions to the best of your ability, but if you don’t know the answer, admit it. Check with NPAF staff to provide the information promptly in a follow-up letter.
• Have a clear “ask” or request. Ask legislators to take a specific action. Press politely for a commitment, unless they are obviously opposed to your position or to making a commitment.
• Volunteer to be a resource contact. Legislators and their staff will always welcome a constituent who is knowledgeable on specific issues and is willing to be a local contact who can give them advice on short notice. For example, legislators often set up health care advisory panels consisting of local health care providers, health care consumers, and others, to provide them with a local view on major health policy initiatives. By volunteering to serve on these panels you will be in a good position to provide input.
• Invite the legislator to visit your organization. Legislators will welcome the opportunity to participate in community events, especially where they may visit with their constituents. Try to get press coverage of the elected official’s involvement. This will make them even more likely to accept the invitation.
• Don’t talk about campaign contributions
• Don’t talk about unrelated controversial political issues
• Don’t tell the legislator or staff that you “voted for the other guy”
AFTER YOUR MEETING:
• Always follow up with a thank you. When you return home, send the legislator a brief thank you note for meeting with you. Briefly restate your concern and requested action. If you met with staff, send them a thank you note as well and send a separate letter to the legislator informing them of the meeting you had with their staff, the issues you discussed and your views on them. A template follows – but be sure to personalize it.
• Create a meeting report. Write a brief summary of your meeting for NPAF staff and keep track of everyone you meet with. This enhances your ability to monitor legislators’ positions on your cause and to follow up on your important work.