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How to Meet with Your Legislators, Policymakers & Their Staff

Photo credit: Sean Mollin Photography/Foter/CC BY-NC-ND

Last week we visited the U.S. Capitol with Social Enterprise Alliance Los Angeles Chapter to advocate for H.R. 2043, the Social Enterprise Ecosystem and Economic Development (SEEED) Commission Act.  You can learn more about the SEEED Commission Act here.

Most of our clients are located in California and do not have many opportunities to visit our nation’s capital.  We are excited to open our DC office later this year and offer a local DC advocate for nonprofits, social enterprises, and sustainable businesses.  You can never underestimate the value of in person conversations with policymakers regarding issues that directly impact organizations, communities and the environment.

After our visit to the Capitol, we want to share our recommendations for meeting with legislators, policymakers and their staff with you:

  1. Schedule meetings far in advance.  Legislators, policymakers and their staff have incredibly busy schedules.  Contact the people with whom you would like to meet as early as possible to secure the best possible chance to set up a meeting.  Don’t assume that just because you are a constituent or you are traveling a long distance that people will rearrange their schedules to meet with you.
  2. Be flexible. Although you may have an appointment scheduled, pressing matters often come up.  Don’t take it personally if your meeting is rescheduled or canceled at the last minute. Conceive a back-up plan for maximum outreach before your meetings so you aren’t caught off guard if your meeting time changes.
  3. Staff count! Lawmakers and policymakers rely heavily upon their staff members’ opinions and expertise.  You can often advance your position further by meeting with staff rather than his or her boss.
  4. Bring a one-page handout explaining the key points.  We can’t stress enough the importance of bringing a one-page handout to your meetings.  The handout should outline the key points you intend to communicate and include a “call to action” so your audience understands precisely what you are asking of them.  Make plenty of copies to share with the office(s) with which you meet as well as to drop off with other offices in the area.
  5. Bring a friend or colleague.  Your message is often more impactful if you ask others to join you.  Your audience may have a variety of concerns and multiple perspectives can more easily address several areas.
  6. Follow up with thank you.  Don’t forget to thank the individuals you meet for taking the time to meet with you.  They are incredibly busy and are often forced to turn down meeting requests.
  7. Bring “thank you” cards to thank champions.  If someone has expressed their support for your issue, be sure to acknowledge their support.  A “thank you” card is an easy way to express your appreciation for their leadership and informs the champion that others are aware of – and appreciate – the position they took.
  8. Bring plenty of business cards. Be prepared to hand out your business card to many people – you never know who you’ll run into in a hallway or on an elevator.
  9. Wear comfortable shoes! If you’re advocating at numerous offices, be prepared to walk long distances!  This is especially true if you’re cruising the miles of hallways on Capitol Hill.  The Senate and House offices are situated in multiple buildings on opposite ends of the Hill.

If you have a nonprofit organization, social enterprise or sustainable business that needs legal representation and/or assistance with advocacy, please contact us.

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