Confused About Communicating With Congress?

Stephanie Vance
©2003 All Rights Reserved

Use This Handy Checklist
To Make Sure You’re On The Right Track

Is my Congressional Office the Best Place to Start?
I have figured out that I want:

• Casework: I need help with a particular federal program (social security, or the IRS, for example)
• Policy Representation: I want my representative or senator to take a position on a certain federal (not state or local) issue.

Background Research
Think about the following questions:

• Who are my representative and senators?
• What is their legislative record and general philosophy?
• What issues are they passionate about?
• What committees are my representative or senators on?
• Is my representative or senator newly elected, or more senior?
• What party does my representative or senator belong to?

Message Development

• Tell a compelling story -- you have something of value to contribute
• Know your fact
• Make your message your ow
• Be positive

General Message Delivery
These tips apply to all communications -- letters, phone calls, and meetings.

• Decide which method of communication suits you and your purpose
• Develop a thoughtful, well-argued message
• Ask your member to take a specific action
• Ask your member to respond to the request
• Make it clear what your priorities are
• Tell your congressional office how you can be an ongoing resource
• Make your message targeted and forceful without being rude or threatening
• Tell the truth
• Be reasonable about opposing points of view
• Be prepared to answer questions about opposing arguments

Effective Meetings

• Determine whether a meeting is needed to deliver the message
• Decide where you want to meet, after looking at the congressional calendar
• Decide who you want to deliver your message (preferably someone from the district)
• Limit the number of people you bring to the meeting,
• If you’re in DC for a national meeting, try to coordinate with others from your state
• Fax the scheduler a meeting request, including a list of issues and attendees
• Follow-up with a phone call to the scheduler after sending a written request
• Schedule carefully to assure you will be on time, but not too early, for each meeting,br>• On voting days, try to schedule meetings with members before 11:00 A.M.
• Be prepared to meet anywhere -- standing up in the hallway or on the run to a vote
• Be prepared to deliver your message in five minutes
• Make sure you have short, concise, and consistent information to leave behind
• Leave your information in a file folder with your organization’s name on the label

Effective Written Communications

• Make your communication stand out by making it personal, thoughtful, and accurate
• Ask for a response
• Confine each written communication to one topic
• Double check office numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail addresses

Effective Phone Calls

• If you want someone to think about what you’re saying, ask for a response
• Have the basic facts about the issue on hand

Following Up

• Send a thank you note to the staff and the member soon after a meeting
• Wait at least three weeks for a response before checking back
• Report on your meeting in a non-threatening way

Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru, is author of “Government by the People: How to Communicate with Congress” and a former Capitol Hill veteran. She lives and works in Washington, DC, offering workshops and advice on effective advocacy.

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