Relationship-building through face-to-face meetings is essential to the ongoing process of educating and emotionally engaging our state legislators. By relating in person, talking about the spiritual bases of our advocacy, talking about the issues, and telling powerful stories, we invite them to become champions for our issues
A truly powerful meeting with a legislator is built on much more than factual information and straightforward requests. It involves speaking, listening, and asking questions in ways that invite us and the member of Congress to be vulnerable, to be moved, and to engage their own spiritual sensibilities.
Here are some tips and resources to plan and practice for meetings. If you need information or support, contact the coordinator for UU Voices – firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-339-4240.
TIPS ON SCHEDULING A MEETING WITH YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS
- Call in advance. If possible, call at least a month or more in advance to schedule your meeting.
- Be prepared with information. Make a list of what you want to say to the aide. Having notes in front of you during the call will definitely boost your confidence. You will be asked for the date(s) you had in mind, what you would like to speak about, and approximately how many people will be attending, so be prepared with that information.
- Get connected. Call the Legislative Hotline to get the district office phone number for your legislators – 800-562-6000 to connect with your legislators’ offices.
- Call again to confirm. Reconfirm the meeting a week in advance.
Meet regularly with your legislators. Meeting once or twice per year can really pay off in the attention legislators give to your calls on specific bills during the session.
TIPS FOR ACHIEVING A POWERFUL MEETING
Before the meeting:
- Do your homework. The better prepared you are the more likely you will be to be effective.
- Research their voting records and find out what bills they sponsor and what committees they are on.
- Decide which issues you will discuss and be clear about the ways that your UU values have informed the positions you are advocating for. This one action is the key to standing out in the legislator’s mind and is more likely to persuade her than logical arguments.
- Be clear about the purpose of meeting. The purpose of your meetings should be to powerfully engage your legislators on issues and inspire them to action. You are there to move them closer to becoming champions for our issues and to provide legislators who already share our positions with powerful moral arguments. This is a process that requires passion, persistence, and good organization on your part. You want your meeting to be a meeting that your legislator does not forget.
- Be prepared: create an agenda that is limited in scope and includes stories and other illustrations. Keep in mind that the story or video you include should only be several minutes long, so choose wisely. Also, know the other side of the coin. There may be very articulate arguments against your request. Be prepared and do your homework on any opposition. Have talking points prepared to defend your position.
- Practice for the meeting. After you create an agenda, each person with a speaking part should create a brief two- or three-minute laser talk and practice it with another person. Be brief, clear, and to the point – and don’t be afraid to show your passion.
- Choose a manager for the meeting. The manager will keep the group on task, keep track of time, and make sure all the requests are covered.
- Choose one person to be the secretary. The secretary’s role is to take notes and write down any commitments your member of Congress makes. Record the member’s reactions and objections, especially highlighting when he or she is particularly attentive or enthusiastic. Following the meeting, the secretary can coordinate thank you notes as well as follow-up plans.
- Share inspiration within your group. Prior to the meeting, allow time for group members to spend a few minutes speaking about why they each care about the issues, and the outcomes they hope to achieve. This will help you set your head and hearts to the task you’re about to undertake.
At the Meeting:
- Connect with your legislators and their aides. Think of some questions beforehand that you would like to ask. The purpose is to have them inspire themselves by speaking about something they have done, experienced, or believed in passionately. You might do this by asking why they got into public service or by pointing out something you have learned about their past and asking them to share about it. Briefly share your own vision and concerns.
- Acknowledge your legislator. It is rare that our representatives and senators hear the words “thank you” from their constituents. Always thank them for the supportive actions they have taken or just be sure to thank them for taking the time to meet with you. And taking time to thank a good legislative aide, especially in front of the aide’s boss, is always appreciated.
- Be concise in stating why you are there. Summarize your concern about the issues in five minutes or less. Use your moving story or short video to provide a more personal angle on the issue.
- As necessary, summarize opponents’ arguments on the issue. Never attack. If you don’t know the answer or how to respond, tell the aide or congressperson you will get further information.
- Use the stories, personal accounts, or videos you have prepared to present the big and small picture. One of the most powerful ways we can advocate for our issues is to have someone speak who has been directly affected by these issues and can tell their experiences. If you do not have someone with personal experience, share the story of a friend or simply tell them why you care about this issue.
- Make specific, clear requests, and ask for an answer. Often, the main reason constituents have unsatisfactory encounters with their elected officials is that their requests are not clear and specific enough. Your legislators need to know what you want them to do (e.g., what bill you want them to sponsor, etc.). Make your request in the form or a yes or no answer; this will elicit some kind of response, which is what you want. In addition to the specific requests you bring, do not be afraid to ask your representative or senators what else they think they could do on your issue, whether they say yes or no to your original request.
- Know your next steps. At the meeting, ensure that the next steps for follow-up are clear, regarding what your group will do next, what the legislator/aide will do next, and which aide you should contact for follow-up. If your legislator has agreed to take action on your initial request, be prepared to ask him or her to take a more profound action. For example, if your member has agreed to sign on to a piece of legislation, ask if he or she would be willing to talk to other members within a committee or state delegation to encourage their support. Or perhaps your legislator would consider writing an op-ed for the newspaper on the issue. Explore the options.
- Leave behind concise materials. Put brief summaries of background information and requests in a folder and leave them with the aide. See that the folder and each page of information are clearly labeled with your contact information and mention UU Voices and include a brochure.
After the Meeting:
Send prompt thank you notes. Go over the issues you discussed and confirm the requests you made.
- Follow up on requests. The most brilliant meeting is futile without timely and persistent correspondence with the aide to make sure actions are taken and requests are followed through.
- Be a resource on our issues. Legislators and their aides will appreciate your trustworthy efforts to become involved and will look to you for information about the issues you discuss with them. Keep in regular contact with them by sharing updated information, stories, and opportunities for action. Your consistent meetings and correspondences are crucial to motivating and equipping them to be champions for the end of poverty.
Sample Agenda for a Meeting
1. Introductions. A specific partner should facilitate this opening section.
Key steps within the Introductions:
- Allow each participant to say who they are and what they do in the community.
- Ask the legislator and aides to introduce themselves with a specific question, such as, “What was your vision in coming to the Capitol?”
- Overview the issues you would like to discuss.
- A typed agenda and requests for the meeting is ideal.
2. Acknowledgements. Acknowledge your member of Congress for any previous actions that support our values that you have identified in your research. Ideally one person should be assigned this task.
3. Presentation of our issues and requests. This is a great chance to involve everyone. Each person should have a prepared section of the presentation and one or two people should be assigned to field legislators’ questions and arguments.
If it’s appropriate, make specific requests and ask for their answer right then. If they are unwilling to make a commitment, set a date to follow up. Also, carefully record any questions, objections, promises, or concerns. Particularly at a first meeting you may want to engage in an sharing your values and positions around a set of issues, rather than advocating for specific legislation.
4. Plan for follow-up. During the meeting, set a specific timeline for follow-up with the staff. Be sure to have someone record your plan for follow-up.
Adapted from the website for RESULTS with permission.
- Call again to confirm. Reconfirm the meeting a week in advance.