Meetings with Congress
A step-by-step guide on how to
conduct a meeting with your member of Congress
An in-person meeting with your member of Congress does two things: it gives you a chance to get 15 to 20 minutes of a member of Congress's undivided attention and gives you an opportunity to "ASK" for something.
In-person meetings are much more personal than every other way to contact members of Congress. There is no better way to personalize your issue than for the lawmaker to see the actual people the policy or law impacts.
Getting the undivided attention of someone who can help make sweeping policy changes, even if it is only for 10 or 15 minutes, is critical in this day and age.
With all the noise coming from social media, fake news stories, partisan outrage, and a press that is constantly looking for the next big scandal, getting the undivided attention of somebody in Congress is like gold.
There have been many stories about policies being implemented, programs getting funded, and even agencies being created all because a member of Congress had a constituent that he or she wanted to help out.
How to schedule your meeting with Congress
Members of Congress and their staff are extremely busy. They have to follow thousands of bills at a time, attend their caucus and committee meetings, and meet with their constituents and other groups in DC. Not to count for all the work they need to do getting ready for the next campaign. They also split their time between their district and Washington, D.C., which makes getting a meeting very difficult.
However, being persistent to get a meeting is worth it. It shows your elected member of Congress that you are dedicated and passionate about your cause. Building a relationship with constituents is very important for members of Congress because their job is to represent your interests in Congress. This is the first step in making that connection.
The first thing you should do is reach out to the office by phone. Ask the person who answers the name of the scheduler and if you can have his or her email. If they ask, tell them you are a constituent and interested in meeting the member of Congress. Once you have the name of the scheduler, write him or her an email requesting the meeting.
If you are planning on traveling to D.C. while Congress is in session, ask if you can meet in the D.C. office. If not, see if you can meet with your member of Congress when he or she is back home during recess. It might take a couple of tries to get a response, but be politely persistent and demonstrate why you are passionate about the issue.
How to prepare for your meeting with Congress
Here are the things you need to do before, during, and after your meeting with your member of Congress:
Before your meeting,
Try to recruit other people in your district to come with you to the meeting. This will make it clear that this is a prevalent issue for constituents.
Know your issue inside and out: whether it’s a real bill or one you’d like to propose, know the background and the language well.
Study up on your lawmaker’s voting record, past public statements, and social media posts. These can give you a good idea of where he or she stands on the issue.
Know the lawmaker’s background. Does he or she have personal or professional experience that would connect him with your cause? Be prepared and tailor your approach to their own background.
Plan and practice your meeting, and prepare to ask and answer questions.
During your meeting,
First, thank your member of Congress for taking the time to meet with you.
Bring notes if you think you need something to keep you focused on the issue.
Print out some (short) materials to leave behind with your lawmaker and his or her staff. These might not get read, but if there is a follow-up question, they might use it to learn more about your issue.
Don’t do all the talking. Present your issue concisely, then let the member of Congress respond.
Watch to see if the staffers attending the meeting are taking notes. If they aren’t, you’ve lost them. Find a way to connect with what matters to them
After your meeting,
Send a thank-you email to all the people you met with as soon as you can.
Follow the legislation pertaining to your issue and reach back out when a new bill is introduced, a piece of legislation makes it out of committee, or a full vote is coming up to remind them of your “ask” and where you stand on the issue.
Keep building the relationship. Staying in touch with any congressional staffers who were present at the meeting is just as important, if not more important, than your actual meeting.
If they take an action in your favor or complete your ask, send a second thank you note to them and to the member of Congress.
Tips to make your meeting more effective
Respect the member of Congress's time.
When starting your meeting, it is good to have a quick chat and friendly conversations, but it is important to get down to the reason for requesting the meeting in a timely manner. Once you start your meeting, be as concise and direct as possible. Do not sit around telling meaningless stories that are not relevant to the reason you are there. When it comes to one-on-one meetings like this, the general rule of thumb is the shorter the better.
Play the long game.
If you can only get a meeting with a junior-level staffer or an intern, do not get upset. They still have some influence over policy. They will brief the legislative director on the meetings, and if you make a good argument, they will make the same argument to their superiors.
Don’t forget about the committees.
Staffers who work for congressional committees are harder to get meetings with but are among the most influential staffers in Congress. They tend to be more policy-focused, so if you are able to get a meeting with them, be prepared to talk more about the policy and less about the personal story.
Follow up is important
Reach out to the office if and when there is an important vote coming up that pertains to your issue. If your lawmaker votes the way you asked or follows through on a request you made, send another thank you note or email. Maintaining a respectful and open relationship with the office will help you now and in the future.
Thank the staffer for their time
Working for Congress is not a glamorous job. Staffers work long hours, get little recognition, and are grossly underpaid. Many are still there despite the fact that they could make much more money working for a private lobbying firm or D.C. think-tank. They stay because they have a sense of service toward their country. A simple "thank you" for this and for their time can go a long way.