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It can seem a little intimidating to think about meeting with your member of Congress, but a study from the Congressional Management Foundation found that visits with your policymakers have more power than you may realize. Almost all the congressional staff surveyed said that constituent visits to the Washington office (97 percent) and to the district/state office (94 percent) have “some” or “a lot” of influence on an undecided member of Congress, more than any other influence strategy. So, whether you meet your local legislators in your home district or federal policymakers in Washington, D.C., our toolkit will help you prepare for a successful visit.
If you don’t have time for an in-person visit, you can still reach your legislator with a phone call or email.
AGU’s Policy Action Center makes it easy for you to contact your legislators about important science policy issues.
Search online using the Find My Representative tool or the Search for a Senator tool to find your members’ websites, which will include their Washington, D.C. and district office locations and phone numbers.
Call and ask to set up a meeting with the member of Congress or their relevant staff who works on the issue you’d like to discuss. You can also ask for that staffer’s name; once you have their name, send them an email at the standard House and Senate email addresses. House staffer emails are structured: [email protected] (for example:[email protected]) and senate staffer emails are structured as [email protected] (for example: [email protected]).
When requesting a meeting, staff will always appreciate brevity. In your email, be sure to touch on:
When thinking about scheduling a meeting with your legislator, it’s always a great idea to take others with you! Bring colleagues who will help strengthen your message. If you are bringing multiple people to the meeting, let the office know everyone who will be coming.
Being aware of when your legislator is in Washington, D.C. or in their home state or district, and what legislation they are considering and drafting, is helpful in determining when is the ideal time to meet with them. Check the congressional calendar for when the House and Senate are in session (in Washington, D.C.). If you’re planning a district visit, you can always plan on members being home during August recess.
To prepare, brush up on your member’s positions on science bills and issues, their recent actions, and what the latest science policy issues being discussed on Capitol Hill are. Pay special attention to the following:
So, what is an “ask”? It’s congressional lingo for the purpose of your visit and should be framed as a call to action. It can be anything from requesting that the member of Congress vote a particular way on a bill to simply letting the office know that you are an expert on a topic of interest to the district and would be happy to be a resource. When explaining your ask, make it clear and concise, and discuss the relevance to the state or district. Remember – all politics is local.
It’s important that you clearly explain to the member or staffer why your ask should matter to them, and this is where your message comes in. How can you frame your message to make them care?
Some questions to ask yourself while creating your message:
Your goal in creating a leave behind, or “one-pager,” is to have a single document that includes your contact information and most important points. The document serves as a reminder to the person you met with of your main points and expertise, and allows them to easily contact you if they have questions at a later date. It should be clear enough that it could be handed to someone with no prior knowledge of the topic, and they would understand your main points.
If you don’t have time or resources to create an original one-pager, it’s still helpful to bring a one-page document or brochure about your science, organization, or business. Contact your institution’s federal or government relations office to ask if they have one already.
Here’s a sample of how a meeting might be structured:
If applicable, thank them for their past work on this or another issue.
Tell them what you want them to do about (support or oppose) the issue or bill.
Provide additional details about why they should support or oppose an issue or bill and how their district will be negatively or positively affected by it.
Offer to be a resource on this issue.
In the short-term, send a thank you email to the staffer shortly following the meeting. Be sure to respond to any questions you couldn’t answer in the meeting and provide any follow-up information you promised. Set a reminder on your calendar to check in with the congressional office every few months. If you see a piece of legislation or current event that concerns you, call or write the office to let them know. Keep the lines of communication fresh and open and you will build trust and form a relationship.