How to Hold a Meeting with Your Elected Officials

Senator Harry Reid meets with AAUW members.

Senator Harry Reid meets with AAUW members.

Connecting with your elected officials about AAUW issues in a face-to-face meeting is a great way to develop a relationship with them and work to influence the positions they take on issues important to you. Below are some helpful tips for before, during, and after a visit. 

Requesting the Visit

  • Make your request in writing and follow up with a call to the scheduler. Make sure the scheduler knows that you are a constituent.
  • Let the person know what issue and legislation (give the specific bill number, if you have one) you wish to discuss.
  • If you want to try to meet with your members of Congress instead of their staff, request an appointment when they are home on long weekends or during congressional recesses. Congress typically convenes in early January and adjourns in early October. Dates vary, but recesses generally take place around the following times: President’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, the month of August, and Labor Day.
  • Be persistent — legislators’ offices receive a lot of incoming communication, so you may need to make a number of calls to arrange a meeting.

Don’t have time to set up a formal meeting? Not a problem!

You can also plan a drop-by visit to your elected officials. Read these tips for a quick visit. »

Preparing for the Visit

  • Decide who will attend the meeting. It can be a group of AAUW members, or a coalition of people who represent different groups that have an interest in the legislation. To highlight the broad base of support for bold action on your issue, consider bringing people who represent constituencies who have influence with your elected official.
  • Gather information. Learn about your elected officials’ records on AAUW issues.  Become familiar with the opposition’s views and arguments on the issues to help you answer questions. Bring polling data, news clips, examples of when a similar idea was pursued in the past, and other forms of evidence to back up your arguments.
  • Agree on three main talking points. Keep your message simple and to the point.
  • Decide what you want achieve. What is it you want your elected official to do – vote for or against a bill? Co-sponsor a measure? Sign a pledge?
  • Plan your meeting. Be sure that you lay out the agenda for the meeting beforehand, including who will start the conversation, who will make the key points, and who will make the “ask” of what you want the elected official to do.
  • Prepare materials to leave with the elected official or staff. Copies of relevant AAUW position papers, the AAUW Public Policy Program brochure, and a fact sheet summarizing your concerns are good examples.
  • If you recruit a large group of people, local media might be interested in covering your visit. Please contact us at advocacy@aauw.org if you are interested in getting media attention for your visit.

During the Visit

  • Before you enter the office, gather outside the entrance with your group and take a picture holding an AAUW sign or a sign with your ask for the elected official. This will provide a powerful visual for your action and help us create a story that can be shared nationally. Feel free to take pictures once you enter the office as well, if the staff will allow it.
  • Make introductions and be clear who is a constituent in the meeting. Make sure to also identify yourself as an AAUW member. Describe AAUW both nationally and locally.
  • Stick to your talking points! Personalize your comments and provide local context. Personal stories and local examples help illustrate why your issue is important.
  • State your ask. If you don’t directly ask your legislator if they support your position, you may never actually find out what they think and what they intend to do. THE ASK MUST BE CLEAR. After you ask, pause. Let them answer and clarify if their response is not clear.
  • If the elected official supports your position, then say “thank you.” Be a resource. If the elected official needs additional information or help, offer to make it available.
  • If the elected official opposes your position, stay cordial and friendly. Keep the door open to working together in the future.
  • If the elected official is undecided, ask if you could provide additional information, and get it to them in a timely manner.
  • The legislator’s response won’t always be clear, so listen carefully. What is the person saying about the issue? What questions or concerns do they have that might be answered? Pay attention to the direct and indirect statements of support or opposition.
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them you’ll find out. Saying “I don’t know” can be a smart political move. You don’t need to be an expert on the topic you are discussing. This gives you the chance to follow up with them about the issue after the meeting.

After the Visit

  • Right after the meeting, compare notes with everyone in your group to confirm what the elected official committed to do.
  • Each person who took part in the meeting should promptly send a personal thank you letter to your elected official. Remind the elected official of anything he or she may have agreed to do.
  • Follow up in a timely fashion with any requested materials and information.
  • Share the results of your meetings with your branch, your state public policy chair, and with AAUW public policy staff. You can file your report online at http://bit.ly/AAUWEventForm or by sending an e-mail to advocacy@aauw.org.
  • Knowing what arguments your member of Congress used, what issues are important to him or her, and what positions he or she took will help us make our national lobbying strategy more effective!

Just Dropping By?

Don’t have time to set up a formal meeting? Not a problem! You can also plan a drop-by visit to your elected officials. Follow these tips to make the most of a shorter visit:

  • You’ll still want to research the official’s position on the issue and prepare your talking points, your “ask,” and materials to leave behind with someone.
  • Upon entering the office, identify yourself to the receptionist as an AAUW member and a constituent, and present an AAUW business card (if you have one).
  • Ask to speak with the legislative aide who handles the issue you want to discuss. If that person is unavailable, ask if there is someone else you can meet with to speak about the issue. Be flexible, as local congressional offices are usually short-staffed.
  • Be sure to leave a copy of your materials with the person you speak to. If there is no staff person available, leave a personal note, your business card, and the materials you brought. Also, feel free to chat about the issue with the person who is sitting at the reception desk — you never know whom you’re talking to!
  • As always, remember to share the results of your drop-by visit with your branch, your state public policy chair, and AAUW staff. You can file your report online.

Key Points

  • Be persistent in requesting the visit — you may need to make a number of calls to arrange a meeting.
  • Prepare your talking points ahead of time and stick to them.
  • Follow up with your elected officials and their staff in a timely fashion.
  • Report the results of your meeting to your branch, your state public policy chair, and AAUW public policy staff. You can file your report online at http://bit.ly/AAUWEventForm or by sending an e-mail to advocacy@aauw.org.

 

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