You finally got a meeting scheduled to talk directly with your state legislator or member of Congress.  Great!  Now What?  You probably know what you’d like to talk about, but your meeting might be short, so how do you make the most of the time you have? 

The Congressional Management Foundation specializes in improving congressional operations and enhancing citizen engagement.  Below is their check list for preparing for a meeting with a member of Congress. 

o   Legislator Profile.  Review or create a short profile for each of the Senator(s) and Representative(s) with whom you’ve scheduled meetings.  Identify any connections to your issue or group, as well as past interactions.

o   Personal Story.  Whose story will you tell?  Do you have a photo of a person or family who is affected by the issue you’ll be discussing with Congress?  This applies to a state legislator as well; make it personal and show them how you can relate to the topic.  

o   Economic Impact.  Describe the political and economic impact of your organization in the district or state for staffers with whom you’re meeting. For example, “I’m a member of the Montana Farm Bureau, the state’s largest agriculture organization.  Farm Bureau is the only organization representing all agricultural commodities.”

o   Pull Together Your “Ask”.  Synthesize your content (economic impact, personal story, connections to legislator) in one “pitch”.  Localize it to YOUR community/organization/state.  Create a bulleted outline you can practice.

o   Be Ready to Provide Materials in Advance.  Depending on the context of your meeting, you may want to turn information in early.  If you’re attending a legislative hearing that won’t be necessary, but do be sure to have copies of your material to hand out to the committee.  If you’re meeting with a member of Congress, have a copy of whatever you’ll be bringing to the office and be prepared to send it 24-72 hours prior to your meeting. Members and staff appreciate a “read-ahead” document to understand your issue better.

o   Be Ready with a “Thank You” Strategy.  This applies to both state legislators and congressional members.  It’s vitally important to thank them for their time.  Include staff members if it’s relevant.  Identify, who you are going to thank, what you are going to say, and find their contact info.  Better yet, a bona-fide “Thank You” card is an appreciated and rare commodity for elected officials.

o   Be Ready with a “Letter to the Editor” Strategy.  If it’s appropriate to your visit consider sending a follow-up Letter to the Editor.  It could be a letter to:

1.      Thank them for their support

2.      Include a “call to action” for fellow constituents to contact the legislator (only if the legislator didn’t provide a firm answer)

3.      Politely criticize the legislator if they turned you down. (Politely is the key work here)

o   Be Ready with a Social Media Strategy.  This is where MFBF can be helpful to you.  If this visit was organized by MFBF, chances are we’ll already have a social media strategy and it will be up to you to help us by sharing, liking and tweeting about the event.  However, if you’re flying solo it’s a good idea to create an “editorial calendar” of tweets and Facebook posts and draft them in advance.  Have someone in your local organization (with your social media account logins) ready to support and post immediately before during, and after you visit.  Remember to include the legislator’s Twitter handle in tweets to get the attention of the congressional office.

Don’t be overwhelmed by this checklist—I know it’s long. This list was created to be fairly exhaustive so please don’t feel as though every one of these items is mandatory to ensuring you have an effective meeting.  My suggestion is to pick just a few of these bullet points to focus on doing really well during any visit or meeting.  If this is going to be the first time you meet your elected official start with the basics.  The priorities for an initial meeting should focus on the Legislator Profile, Pulling Together Your Ask, Providing Materials, and a Thank You Strategy. 

Even though the Congressional Management Foundation specializes in working with members of congress many aspects of this list can be applied right here at home when working with members of our state legislature.  The 2019 Session will convenes today, January 7, which means that for the next four months there will be ample opportunity for you to get involved in the policy process and your MFBF lobbyists will often be calling on you to do so.

Having this checklist in your back pocket is a great strategy to ensure you’re able to respond quickly when called upon.

Whichever bullet points you choose, remember that organization and concise delivery are critical to success.  If you’re prepared with your talking points and information and remember to offer a sincere ‘thanks’ (regardless of the outcome of your meeting) it will not go unnoticed.