In our last advocacy article, we talked about what to do when you call or send a letter to your elected representatives. While these methods of communication are vital to a well-rounded advocacy strategy, and they are certainly the best method when time is of the essence, meeting with your elected officials in person or via video conference also plays a vital role.
Face-to-face or video conference meetings
Whether you are meeting with your legislators in their office or via Zoom, there are key things to keep in mind.
When requesting a meeting, you should send a letter or email first and follow-up with a phone call. Make sure the letter or email has your contact information as well as why you want to meet with your legislator. You want to be flexible, so it is a good idea to give a time period when you could meet, such as a week span in the afternoon if mornings are just not good for you. You should also mention if you are looking to meet individually or as part of a group.
If you are looking to set up an in-person meeting, it is best to do so in the district office. This will be easier than meeting in the capital because the members won’t be called into session for a vote or trying to squeeze in your meeting between committee meetings and session. It also will be easier for you, their constituent, to get to their district office, which is most likely be closer than their office in the state capital and closer than Washington, D.C.
Be aware, it is likely you will not meet with the member at all, but this is not something to worry about. Often, lobbying meetings are taken by staffers. They are very knowledgeable, and they will communicate everything to the member. Legislators are hardly ever subject-matter experts except maybe in one or two areas that are of high interest to their constituents, so meeting with a staffer who is more knowledgeable about the issues you are talking about is more valuable, even if you don’t get the photo op.
Whether you are meeting in person or virtually, make sure you are early. Be prepared with notes about what you want to communicate about the issue(s) and why you want the member to support/oppose the legislation. If you are meeting as a group, make sure everyone knows their role and what they will be talking about. If you can, leave behind more detailed information about the issues, including bill numbers, and your business card should the member or their staff want to reach you with any questions later.
Always follow-up after your meeting with a thank-you note, handwritten is better than typed or an email, thanking the member or staffer for their time and offer to be of assistance on the issues you discussed or related matters to keep communication open.
Does any of this make an impact?
You might ask yourself whether any of this advocacy makes an impact, and it does. Legislative staffers keep track of how often they are contacted about an issue, and it can take as little as 10 contacts to get a legislator’s attention. This might seem small, but when you look at how many people a legislator represents—and the fact that most people never get involved in any advocacy on any issue—10 people is a lot.
More in the Advocacy series
- Part I: How to be an advocate with PIA
- Part II: How to be an advocate, giving your time
- Part III: How to be an advocate, donating
- Part IV: Advocacy tips for calling elected officials, legislative staff
- Part V: Advocacy tips for letters/email
- Part VII: The do’s and don’ts of advocacy
Katherine “Kat” Slye-Hernandez, Ph.D.
Katherine “Kat” Slye-Hernandez received her Ph.D. in political science from the State University of Albany, Albany, N.Y., in May 2020. She also has her Master of Arts from SUNY Albany and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History from Elmira College, Elmira, N.Y.