Personal visits with influential policymakers are an effective method of grassroots advocacy. Visits with policymakers, whether in-person or virtual, lay the groundwork for future communication and a strong relationship with your elected official and his/her staff. Face-to-face meetings with your federal policymakers can be held in Washington, D.C. or in your Member’s district office, but virtual visits have the benefit of being able to be held anywhere!
Whether you are meeting with a federal, state or local official, here are some tips to make your meeting more effective:
- Make your appointment in advance.
Call your public official’s office and request a meeting (at least a few weeks in advance, if possible). Members of Congress typically have an online form on their official government websites to request a meeting with the office. Identify who you are, who you represent and who will attend; state the time required (15 minutes is typical) and the subject you want to discuss. The day before the appointment, call to confirm. To find the contact information for Members of Congress, please visit ACTE’s Action Center to find contact information for state and local policymakers, utilize this link to USAGov, which provides step-by-step directions for finding the contact information you need. If you need further assistance locating contact information, contact your ACTE state association.
- Do your homework.
Be prepared to answer questions or provide information about your program and know what points you want to make before the meeting. Also, learn about the policymaker and his/her priority issues. Try to have statistics and facts about your local program and know how the official’s support has helped in the past or could help in the future. A lot of information can be found using the internet. If you need assistance, contact the ACTE Public Policy staff at 800-826-9972, or email Jori Houck, ACTE Media Relations and Advocacy Associate, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Be on time, flexible and brief.
When it is time to meet with a public official, be punctual and patient. It is not uncommon for an official to be late or to have a meeting interrupted due to their crowded schedule. If interruptions do occur, be flexible. If the opportunity presents itself, continue your meeting with staff. Bring concise written information (the shorter the better–e.g., a fact sheet) regarding your program and its importance.
- Select a spokesperson.
If there are two or more people going to the appointment, identify a spokesperson to lead the discussion and ask other members of the group to speak as the discussion moves along.
- Make local connections.
After introductions, start the meeting with a comment about mutual interests (friends, activity in the state, a recent vote) to tie you or your program to the policymaker, though keep this brief.
- State the purpose of your visit.
Tell the official who you represent, what you want to talk about and why you are talking with him or her. If you are advocating for a specific bill, be sure to refer to it by number, explain its status and indicate what action you would like the official to take. Be direct, but polite.
- Use your expertise and share success stories.
You are there to share your expertise on the issue you’re discussing. Be prepared to share brief anecdotes and success stories to make your point. Be sure to identify how your community and the policymaker’s constituents will be affected.
- Discuss how your program serves the community.
Discuss your program or organization and its importance to the community. Discuss the importance of CTE programs to the people in your community, local businesses and the economy. Cite specific examples of your program’s success in meeting the particular needs of your area and emphasize why maintaining an investment in CTE is so important. It is a good idea to have with you 1-2 pages of information to leave behind as a future reference.
- Listen carefully and answer questions truthfully.
Allow the official to share his or her insights or positions with you. Though you may not agree, this gives you the chance to respond based on your knowledge and experience. Do not argue, but listen carefully and identify issues of concern or differences of opinion. Answer all questions to the best of your ability. If you do not know the answer to a question, say you do not know and promise to find the answer and get back to them.
- Summarize major points.
Wrap up the meeting by summarizing the major points of discussion and leave behind a fact sheet with your name, address and phone number. Send the fact sheet via email to the staffer or legislator that you met with if you attended a virtual meeting.
- Leave promptly.
At the end of your allotted time, thank the policymaker and the staff for their time and leave promptly.
- Follow up.
Send a brief thank you letter and any follow up information you may have promised to the policymaker and the staff who were instrumental in assisting you, and keep up the relationship with the office over time. Periodically send information that may be of interest to the office. Invite them to visit your program. Thank the officials who honor commitments or who vote in support of your position. Also remember that developing and maintaining good relationships with staff may be the most effective means to making your concerns heard.
- Fill Out a Congressional Visit Report Form
Let ACTE know the results from your visits and other contacts with federal policymakers. If you visit, receive return correspondence or communicate with your Members of Congress in other ways, please complete a Hill report form. This gives ACTE staff in Washington additional insight into the positions of Members of Congress and helps us identify strong supporters and those that need additional attention or information.
Virtual Meeting Tips
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. Capitol security concerns, in-person visits with policymakers were largely curtailed, but virtual visits became more acceptable and are likely to remain an effective grassroots advocacy tool even after the pandemic. Virtual visits with state and local policymakers became more prevalent during the pandemic as well. Here are some tips for maximizing your virtual meeting:
- Practice good online meeting manners.
- Enter the virtual meeting room a few minutes ahead of time to be polite, punctual, and to troubleshoot any technical difficulties you may encounter.
- Check that your camera and microphone are working, and that your speaker or listening device is at a sufficient volume.
- Make sure you and your colleagues are centered and visible on the screen and ensure that you have an appropriate backdrop. Wear formal clothing on camera while you are meeting with the legislator or their staff.
- Mute your microphone when not speaking and remind your colleagues to do the same.
- Bring a notepad and pen to take notes.
- Avoid distractions (if possible) like phone calls, texting, emailing, etc. during your meeting.
- Being distracted or performing other tasks shows that you do not respect your policymaker’s time or their staff’s time, making it unlikely that you will develop an effective working relationship. It also creates doubt about your seriousness and interest in advocacy.
- You could also miss something important that can help you be a more effective CTE advocate! Take full advantage of your time with your policymakers and their staffs.