Tips for Meeting with Your Senators, Representatives and Their Staff
Meeting with Senators and Representatives, and/or their staff, is a terrific way for our Eye CAN advocates to communicate with policymakers on important issues. Through these visits you can educate Congressabout your concerns, make yourself available as a resource, and establish a relationship that can prove mutually beneficial over time. It is a great idea to build a relationship before you need it.
Note: meetings can be conducted at Congressional offices in Washington, DC, or “at home” in district offices, and can result in support for Prevent Blindness America’s public policy priorities.
1. Prepare, be on time (and leave when your time is up). Give yourself plenty of time to go through security, find your way to the office, and announce yourself to the receptionist. Open the meeting by thanking the Member of Congress/staffer for his or her time. Introduce yourself as a constituent and that you are part of the Eye CAN network.
2. Be brief and clear. Cover no more than three topics. If asked a question to which you do not know the answer, acknowledge that the question is a good one and say you will follow up later with the answer. Make sure to include a personal story or real-life illustration. Personal stories are more easily remembered than statistics.
4. Be polite and listen carefully to the Senator or Representative/staffer’s views and comments. Have a conversation. Even if you disagree, it is very important to be courteous - avoid being argumentative or threatening. Much of advocacy is about building and maintaining relationships over time.
5. Ask for a response – respectfully. Stay on message and on topic as politely as possible, and be sure to make your “ask.” Ask directly and politely for the policymaker’s views and position on the issue and what he/she plans to do about it. If the Senator or Representative truly is undecided, or the staffer is not familiar with the Member’s position on the issue, do not force the issue. Reiterate your interest, offer to answer any questions or provide additional information, and request a written follow-up letter from the Senator or Representative, once a decision has been made.
6. Bring a short set of materials with you to leave behind at the end of your meeting. Do not give the materials to the Member/staffer until the close of the meeting or he/she may be distracted and only listen to you with one ear. Early in the meeting indicate that you have materials to leave behind. Be sure you to follow through on any promises of additional information.
7. Summarize your requests and any responses the Senator/Representative/staffer has provided to ensure that you are clear on where they stand on the issues. Express appreciation for their time, interest, and courtesy, and indicate that you’re looking forward to following up with the office.
8. Close the Meeting Successfully. Make sure you give your home/personal contact information, and get a business card from the Member of Congress/staffer, so that you know how to reach him/her.
9. Share your experience on our Eye Did page. Other Eye CAN members want to hear about your efforts and successes! Encourage others to take action just like you.
10. Follow up with a thank you note or email. Your follow-up note should express appreciation for the time and consideration extended to you during your meeting. Repeat your request(s) and ask for a response from the office. Follow up with answers or information the office requested of you. Keep in touch with the Member of Congress and his/her staffer to maintain and strengthen your relationship.
Schedules are very fluid, and Senators and Representatives, and their staff, are often pulled away for last-minute, unplanned activities that are not known in advance. As such, your meeting could be delayed or bumped or you may meet with a different person than expected. Do not take any last minute meeting changes personally, and make sure you are always gracious and flexible.
You can reach your Members of Congress in the following ways:
Phone through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121
E-mail your U.S. Representative through: http://www.house.gov/writerep
E-mail both of your U.S. Senators by looking up their contact information through: http://www.senate.gov