Toolkit: Meeting Your Member of Congress

It can seem a little intimidating to think about meeting with your Member of Congress – How do you schedule a meeting? How will you craft your message? And does your voice really matter? A recent study from the Congressional Management Foundation found that you have more power than you realize.

Almost all of the staff surveyed said that constituent visits to the Washington office (97%) and to the district/state office (94%) have ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of influence on an undecided Member, more than any other influence group or strategy. So, what are you waiting for? Whether you meet your legislators in your district or in DC, our toolkit will help you prepare for a successful visit!

Requesting a Meeting

Members of Congress and their staff are incredibly busy, and in order to make time for constituents, they need to schedule appointments for visits. Especially if you are meeting a member or staffer in DC, these meetings could take place in the office, in the hallway, or walking to their next meeting – so it’s always good to be prepared for the unexpected.

  • Who Should I Contact? One of the easiest ways to get in touch with a congressional office is to simply call. Googling your members, or visiting Find My Representative, and the Senate Website will take you to their webpage, where you can find their DC and district office location and phone number. Call the office, and ask to set up a meeting with the member of Congress or their relevant staff regarding the issue area you’d like to discuss. You can also ask for the name of the staffer who works on the issue you are concerned about. Once you have their name, send them an e-mail at the standard House and Senate e-mail addresses.
  • For Example:
    • House E-mail: doe@mail.house.gov
    • Senate E-mail: doe@senatorlastname.senate.gov
  • Who Should I Meet With? As previously mentioned, the schedule of a legislator is hectic, especially during certain times of the year. This means, that more times than not, you will meet with their staffer who advises them on this policy area. It’s important to note that staffers are the eyes and ears of the member, and they are irreplaceable in making sure your voice will be heard. Having said that, don’t be surprised if a member stops by in the middle of your meeting!
    • Power in Numbers – When thinking about scheduling a meeting with your legislator, it’s always a great idea to take others with you! Find other scientists from your area who will help strengthen your message.
  • When Should We Meet? Being in the know about when your legislator is in DC or in the state or district, and what legislation they are considering and drafting, is all 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. If you’re planning a district visit, you can always plan on members being home during August recess.
  • Sample Meeting Request: When requesting a meeting, staff will always appreciate brevity. In your e-mail, be sure to touch on:
    • Where you’re from (Tell them you’re a constituent!)
    • What you work on
    • What issue you’d like to discuss
    • When you’d like to meet

This Meeting Request Example Email will give you a clear idea of what a request looks like.

Researching Your Member of Congress

  • Member’s Website: You should know the committees on which (s)he serves, their positions on various issues, and their recent voting record. Even if you disagree with most of what your member does, finding something they’ve done recently that you can thank them for is a great way to begin a meeting. On their website, pay particular attention to:
    • Member Biography
    • Committee and Caucus Membership
    • Issues Page
    • Press Releases
  • Social Media: An immediate and more informal way of seeing how your member views issues
  • Congress.gov: Shows recent voting record and bills they’ve introduced (sponsored) or co-sponsored

Mapping Out Your Ask

So, what is an “ask”? The Ask is DC lingo for the purpose of your visit. 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.

Creating Your Message

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 make them care?

Some questions to ask yourself while creating your message…

  • What impacts have your science or program had on the state or district?
  • Did your program recently discover something? Have you been recognized or awarded recently? Does your university stimulate your area’s economy and bring in constituents?
  • What are the congressperson’s top values (ie. sustainable agriculture, national security, a strong economy, public health)? How can you connect that value to your science?
    • For example, if your member of Congress is passionate about STEM education, you could discuss how excitement about science missions gets kids interested in STEM and makes them more likely to eventually pursue a STEM career.
  • What’s your personal story behind your science? Did your program bring you to the area? What sparked your interest in science?

At the end of the day, your message should convey why an audience should care about what you’re asking for. For additional help in creating a message, check out AGU Sharing Science’s Message Worksheet, and for some additional science communication tips, check out this General Science Communication Tips handout.

Creating a One-Pager

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, with the information needed for them to 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 federal or government relations office to ask if they have one already.

For additional instructions in how to create a leave behind click here.

Check out a sample one-pager.

Meeting Check List

  • Business cards
  • One-pager
  • Notebook/pen
  • Proper Business Attire
  • Comfortable Shoes – you will be walking a lot if you are visiting the DC office!

Meeting Your Member in the District

During Your Meeting

Here’s a sample of how a meeting might be structured:

  1. Exchange business cards and briefly introduce yourself (<5 minutes) and others in the group
  2. Thank the staffer for meeting with you, and for any positive actions the congressperson has taken recently that you’ve supported
  3. State your Ask – what’s the explicit goal of the meeting?
  4. Share your message – why do you want what you’re asking for? Why should they care?
  5. Share your leave behind, and thank the staffer for their time.

Meeting Etiquette

  • Attire: Be sure to dress either business or business casual. This means no jeans!
  • Pick a Group Leader: It’s a good idea pick a group leader for each meeting to introduce the group, steer the agenda, and make the Ask. Remember that each participant should have the opportunity to talk during the meeting.
  • Jargon: The staffer you’re meeting with may not have a science degree – so keep the jargon to a minimum! This Jargon Handout can help you spot vocabulary with double meanings to the public.
  • Make it Personal: In addition, while it’s tempting to use data and numbers in referencing your work, keep in mind that using stories and metaphors is the most effective way of communicating. It also makes it more likely that the staffer will be able to relay your message to the congressperson.
  • Stay Neutral: Be sure to remain neutral, bi-partisan, and positive.
  • Don’t Speculate and don’t worry if you are asked a question you don’t know how to answer. Tell the staffer you will get back to them, and use that question as a talking point for your follow-up.
  • Keep the Dialogue: You’ll know how the meeting is going by how the staff reacts – are they asking questions and reacting to your stories, or are they losing interest? If they seem uninterested, don’t panic. Just be sure to ask questions and maintain a dialogue to keep them engaged.  In an ideal meeting, the staffer will speak 50% of the time.

After Your Meeting

  • Follow-Up in the Short Term: Send a thank you e-mail 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.
  • Follow-Up in the Long Term: Set a reminder on your calendar to check in with the offices every few months. Even better, 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. The ultimate goal is for you to build trust and form a relationship.

Institutional Resources

  • Check in with your program or agency’s federal or government relations office, because they can help you locate information on how the institution impacts your state or district.
  • AGU’s Science Policy page contains more resources for ensuring a successful meeting.
  • If you are interested in meeting your members of Congress in DC as part of AGU’s Congressional Visits Days (CVDs), consider applying here.