Tips for Organizing a Congressional Meeting

The tips below are designed to help you organize and hold a powerful meeting with your Members of congress and/or their aides.

1. Listen to inspiring audio training from Lynn McMullen on how to powerfully work with Congress (from 2012).

download .mp3

2. Here is another optional audio training with Matthew Albracht going step-by-step through this page, with some additional context:

download .mp3

PREPARATION

To start off, if you are able, it is a good idea to identify one or two others who will work with you to help organize around the actions below, and especially to go to your meeting with you. However many folks have gone on their own in the past to great effect. Meet to create a timeline for actions and to break out responsibilities.

Overarching goals:

Your goal is to engage your Congressional representative or staff in a dialogue regarding our common goal of a less violent, more peaceful world – focusing on the practical and effective work of peacebuilding. This means that regardless of your Congressperson’s position on many other topics, international and domestic, your issue is relevant to him or her. It is important to read his or her website and find common goals and values so that the two of you can connect. Each of us dreams of peace incessantly. Clarify with your team that no matter what your member of Congress or her or his staff says, you can seek to empathize with their perspectives, and ultimately regard them as your allies and partners. Aim to engage with them through a common inquiry: “How can we most effectively deal with violence and conflict, in ways that are uplifting and truly effective?”

TIPS: (click to jump)

Schedule Meeting | Meeting Preparation TipsSample Meeting Agenda  |  After the Meeting  |  Materials to Print and Bring

SCHEDULE THE MEETING

For tips on setting up a meeting with an aide or your member of Congress, read below.
Start working to schedule a meeting soon!  If you can only meet with one, it’s probably best to target your member of the House of Representatives.

CREATE A COALITION OF SUPPORT FOR MEETING

Invite friends and family, local supporters, anyone who cares and works for the issues we are advocating for.  And feel free to bring young people! College and high school youth have proven to be some of our most powerful spokespeople. Even the littlest child (along with pictures they’ve made that convey their message of peace!) can have a BIG impact.

Community leaders, including church leaders, heads of organizations, police department chiefs, and professionals working with proven methods that reduce youth violence and incarceration, are particularly strong allies to bring to these meetings, as well as parents and children.  However, every person is important.

HOW TO SCHEDULE A CONGRESSIONAL MEETING:

You can meet with a Representative or an office aide either in Washington DC or in a local office. Very often you will meet with aides.  That is normal and fine.  These tips should be helpful.

  1. Make a list of what you want to say to the Scheduler and have it with you when you make the call. It may sound silly, and you may never even look at it, but it will definitely boost your confidence. They will ask for the date, of course, what you would like to speak to the Representative about, and possibly who will be attending the meeting.
  2. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or preferably your local office if a local meeting request and ask to be connected to your Member of Congress’s office or dial the number directly if you have it. If you don’t know who your representative is, or to make an appointment at a local office, go here to find your members. All you need is your zip code.  You will need to do a web search for them to find local numbers.
  3. First thing to share is that you are a constituent of the Member of Congress.
  4. Ask to speak to the Scheduler or aide(s) in charge of your issues. Each office may have variances in how they like to schedule, just go with their flow.  If she or he is unavailable leave a message with your name and phone number requesting a meeting. Most likely the person you leave a message for will return your phone call; however, if you do not hear back from the Scheduler by the next day, call again the following day. Remember that these people are very busy, but ultimately they work for you, and it is fully within your rights to ask to see and speak to the office. Keep making follow up calls, and don’t get discouraged. It sometimes takes awhile (often not).
  5. Be ready to tell the Scheduler what the meeting will pertain to. Inform the Scheduler you will be faxing a request for the meeting with all of the pertinent information they required. You may want to ask if they would like it emailed as well. Ask for 40 minutes, you may only get 20 or 30, but try for more length.
  6. Congratulations, the hard part is over and you have the meeting secured. Last, but certainly not least, make a note in your planner to reconfirm your meeting the Friday before your appointment is scheduled. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

MEETING PREPARATION TIPS:

BRUSH UP ON THE CONTENT!

It is important that we walk into meetings well prepared to speak as clearly and intelligently as possible about the issues and bills we are presenting.

Download relevant issue sheets, research and talking points from our Resources page – you can use these to learn and to print and bring to leave at the office.

SUGGESTED PREP BEFORE MEETING

  • Before your meeting, members of your team might establish goals, speaking parts, and a timeline. Each person might rehearse with another person or two to receive coaching on his or her presentation.  You may decide that a particular person should serve as the “host” of the meeting (perhaps the person who called to arrange the meeting).  He or she could be the first to greet the member of Congress, or staff, and aim to facilitate an overall effective conversation.
  • Look online at your Congress Member’s website, and find at least one issue that they have spoken up for that you can be grateful for – maybe it’s about supporting elderly people, or caring for children, or promoting higher education – seek common ground!
  • Each speaker could focus on one area of the bill(s) and spend no more than two minutes. This will allow everyone to participate.
  • It can be helpful to rehearse with another one or two people to get coaching on your (or their) presentation. But ultimately, just speak from your heart. You don’t need to be an expert, just a passionate constituent.
  • You don’t have to be an expert, just read over the material thoroughly and take some notes of things you want to share with them, highlight info.
  • Appoint one person as host (facilitator) of the meeting to keep everyone on track.
  • Plan on making your case in fifteen minutes max (but also be prepared for more time).
  • Bring a Packet of information on the Bills to leave with the office.

SAMPLE MEETING AGENDA

Be the Peace!

Remember through the entire preparation process, team building (if any) and particularly the scheduling and meeting to hold yourself in the most peaceful manner possible. We want to embody the values and principles we are advocating for. Get support before hand if needed (maybe you are meeting with an office that is opposed to many of your values?). They are more likely to “hear” you and welcome you back if you can connect with them and be gracious. Speaking your truth doesn’t have to be done in anger. Anger, etc, most often alienates.

Meet early: Meet up 15-30 minutes early for every meeting to polish plans with your team.  Also can be challenging to navigate the buildings.

Overview of “the talk”:

  • The problem: Choose some data to highlight the issue or “problem.” Using local data is especially powerful.  Find one or two statistics that are most compelling to you. Use those as your anchor.
  • The solution: Describe how the legislation or issue will contribute to solving the problem.
  • Make it Real: Tell a story. Bring your heart and experience into the conversation to create that personal connection. Something personal that creates a picture of or evokes something deeper. 1- 2 minutes max.
  • The Request:  What is it you want your member to do?

Introductions

Everyone in the groups should briefly introduce themselves and say where they are from. (Name, city of residence, occupation is enough. Make yourselves real and open. Saying, “I am a teacher and mother of a ten-month-old baby,” is a good opening, so is “I’m a truck driver and grandpa,” etc.)   Be sure to ask the aide about themselves, too!  You can ask them about what brought them to this work, what their area of focus is, etc.  They all got into this work because they care, give them space to share why they care, it will help get them into a heart space.  It also provides you with valuable information about things they care about, and you can adjust your sharing accordingly. 

Share a little bit about your group.  Below is what we suggest saying to explain the legislative work of The Peace Alliance

The Peace Alliance advocates for evidence-based legislation and policy that will enhance our capacity to reduce violence and build sustainable peace both domestically and internationally.

General Tips:

  • Always maintain a respectful dialogue, even when you disagree.
  • Facilitator keeps things on track.  When you’re in the meeting, the conversation can get away from the original agenda because of a question the aide asks or an opinion that they share.  The facilitator’s job is to help the group smoothly transition through the conversation and make sure that everyone is included.
  • The meeting is a conversation and part of building a relationship—add something personal.  You can make it personal by sharing what has drawn you to this work/cause or any programs or experiences that have inspired you. Maybe a relevant experience of violence that impacted you. This is the kind of thing that can pull at heartstrings and help the congressperson or aide connect better with you or inspire them to engage in our initiatives.
  • Build trust by being truthful in everything you say.  If you don’t know something, offer to find out and follow up with an answer.
  • Be persistent, but not harassing.  Congressional staffers are busy and may not return your follow-up calls immediately, but do not give up.
  • Be aware of how much time you have and respect the time that has been given to you.

MAKE THE CASE:

You might begin your meeting by thanking the member (or their staff member) for agreeing to meet with you and for having taken some position or stand that you support. This will set a positive tone.

Connecting issues to your district or state

Talk about how violence (domestic, school, gang) is affecting your community, congressional district, or state.  If possible, provide one or two local statistics about crime/violence.  If you can’t find any, national numbers are still very helpful. Talk about the impact on families of military members, the cost to taxpayers of war, and the current economic needs of your community that could be helped by saving millions of dollars with international peacebuilding efforts.

Highlight local programs that could be helped by DoP or Youth PROMISE Act.

Questions

  • Answer any questions that the aide may have.  Your group should make yourselves familiar with these materials and consider bringing printed versions to your lobby meeting.
  • If you don’t know the answer, let the aide know that you will find out for them.  This is a great opportunity to continue to build a relationship after the meeting is over.  Don’t lie or make something up.

Requests:

At the end of the meeting, ask for your member of Congress to support the bill. Review the “request” ideas listed below, and ask for his or her own ideas as well. Ask your Congressperson what he or she would be willing to do to help you. Be specific. For example, you could ask a staffer, “Would you review this with the Congress(wo)man, and ask him or her if he or she would speak at a public event in [Hometown USA]? When should I check back with you on this?”

a.    Become a co-sponsor of the bill? (even if they are already a co-sponsor, we are looking to create CHAMPIONS!!! ).

b.    Attend the briefing on the bill scheduled for____________?

c.     Write a letter to your colleagues? To the committee chairs that the bill has been  referred to?

d.    Speak at a public event within the district?

e.    Write an op-ed for a local newspaper? (You might offer to draft something for them)

f.      What else do you or your staff think you could do to help us get this legislation enacted?

Wrap-Up

  • Closing the Meeting
  • Thank the aide for meeting with you.
  • Confirm any agreements for follow up and provide contact information for a point person in your group.

 Meeting Outline:

1.) Thank you/ Introductions – 5-6 minutes

a. Thank your member of Congress for the meeting. If applicable, thank your member for an action that he or she has done that you appreciate.

b. Ask a question that will allow the member and aide to introduce themselves more fully. This helps establish a real connection.  For example, you can ask, “What brought you to Congress? What was your vision for entering politics?”

2.) Introduction to the Legislation – 2-3 minutes

a. Basic background/ overview of the purpose and effect of the bill.

3.) Share your individual experiences and emphases.

a. Why are the bill’s purpose and specific provisions compelling to each of you?

4.) Welcome feedback, questions, or comments from member of Congress and staff regarding the bill or issue.

5.) Requests

a. Become a co-sponsor of the bill?

b. Attend the briefing on the bill scheduled for____________?

c. Write a letter to your colleagues? To the committee chairs that the bill has been  referred to?

d. Speak at a public event within the district?

e. Write an op-ed for a local newspaper? (You might offer to draft something for them)

f. What else do you or your staff think you could do to help us get this legislation enacted?

6.) Wrap-up

a. Set up necessary follow-up with contact information and expected response times.

b. Thank them for their time and attention.

Download Editable/Printable Congressional Meeting Outline .doc

FOLLOW UP

  • Follow up is KEY to success. You must follow up promptly and cheerfully. Be persistent at each task and thank them for every bit of effort they invest in helping you, even just reading the bill.
  • Send a handwritten thank you note to the Congress member or staff you met with.
  • Send a letter to the Editor of your local newspaper, thanking your Rep for co-sponsoring either or both bills. MOC appreciate public praise for what they have done and rarely get it.
  • Attend local Town Hall meetings that your representative holds throughout the year to raise the subject of reducing violence and incarceration through programs that are proven to be effective, particularly among youth.  Please attend as many of the local meetings as possible and bring friends.