Visiting With a Policymaker
Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
-- Mark Twain
In a face-to-face meeting with a policymaker you can fully explain your concerns and they can ask questions. In a good discussion they will get a better understanding of the issue and you’ll understand their context and chances of passage. It is also an important part of developing productive relationships into the future.
- Call their office to ask for an appointment. Leave a message for their aide with your name, organization if appropriate, the issue you want to discuss, ask for a meeting, and leave a number where you can be reached.
- Learn what you can about the official – previous votes and actions on your issues, committee assignments, professional background, and any public statements on your issue.
- They may want to meet at their office in Hartford or in the district, especially if you are a constituent. In the office, you may have only a few minutes between other lobbying meetings, especially during the legislative session.
- Prepare for the visit. Define your goal, brief yourselves on the issue, plan what you want to say, even practice with a friend.
- Arrive on time but understand that they may not be. Be patient and understanding.
- You can take one or two other people with you, but it isn’t necessary. Keep the group small.
- Bring a fact sheet to leave with them, preferably one page. The sheet should contain your most important points, what you want them to do, and your contact information.
- Be sure to leave your contact information with both the legislator and their aide – name, address, phone and email.
- Introduce yourselves – describe your interest in the issue, any organization you are representing, if you are a constituent say so
- Be friendly and courteous. A little small talk is fine but get to the point. Be respectful of their time.
- Say your piece but be sure to listen to what they have to say. You can disagree politely, but don’t argue or interrupt. This isn’t a debate.
- Be sure to remember the point of the meeting – what it is you want them to do.
- They may ask a question that you don’t know the answer to. It happens to everyone – you can’t know everything about any issue. Don’t make one up. Say that you don’t know, but you will get back to them.
- Get back to them. If it is taking you a long time to find the answer, call to let them know that you are still working on it.
- If by mistake, you say something that you later find out wasn’t right – contact them right away and correct the error. Be sure everyone else who was in the room also has the corrected information.
- It is often helpful to take a few notes immediately after the meeting, so you remember any concerns or questions they asked. Share your feedback with coalitions or organizations you are working with.
- Follow up with a thank you email or note. You’d be amazed at how often advocates forget this and how much people appreciate it. Tell them how much you appreciate their time and interest in your issue. Invite them to call you if they need more information and repeat your contact information. Include any updates or additional information since the meeting. Also thank any staff who helped schedule the meeting.
Don’t be intimidated. Elected officials expect, even welcome, these meetings. They cannot do their job without input from the public. Administrators also understand that they work for the public and that advocates often make their job easier. Both would much rather hear your concerns in person than read about complaints in a letter to the editor.