Advocacy Summer Series
Part II: Preparing for In Person Meeting
Hi, it’s Mandy from Gainesville again to share my stories and tips preparing for the in-person meeting with a legislator. Like most things in life, advocacy requires PATIENCE and most of all – PRACTICE. You may not get a reply on your first request for an in person meeting with a legislator. I learned this lesson in late 2018 when I contacted a local office of a U.S. Senator to only receive no reply to numerous emails. You bet I was frustrated, and I had to remind myself this is an exception to the rule to not receive any reply after several attempts.
It is also worth mentioning; you do not have to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with federal legislators or even travel to your state capital to meet with your state legislators. Rather, you can meet with them locally – yes, locally in their districts where it is so much more convenient and they are more accessible.
Do not be disappointed if you meet with staff member rather than the legislator. Over time, I have developed a working relationship with Joel, deputy chief of staff, for my Congressman. I always walk away from the meetings feeling like he listened and he will share the materials and my message with the legislator. I have yet to be disappointed. Do keep in mind that staff members do change and the next time you call don’t be surprised if you are reintroducing yourself and your purpose.
Back in May, I participated in the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) Public Policy Forum during which my fellow Georgia diabetes educators and I met with Charlotte, staff member with one of our U.S. Senator’s. Charlotte listened, took notes, asked clarifying questions and provided the information shared (verbally and materials left) with the Senator during a briefing. Yet, again I walked away confident that my advocacy goals had been accomplished.
Always come prepared for the meeting. Yes, have your key points about the proposed legislation and any available statistics – these are called your “Talking Points”. Also, have a story to share of how a constituent will be impacted positively by the legislation. Stories are powerful as they connect the legislation to their constituents – suddenly, it becomes more personal to the legislator. Even better is if the legislation directly impacts the legislator, a staff member’s family or even their close friends. Stories are the bridge that transforms proposed legislation from an abstract to worthy of consideration. An additional advocacy, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) number for proposed federal legislation is important to legislators and their staff, so do your best to provide the number during your visit. I would be remiss if I did not remind you to dress professionally – no, this does not mean a suit but business attire is appropriate.
How many times have you walked away from a meeting not really remembering the details? Okay, you are normal. Legislator’s and staff members are no different than rest of us. While they most likely will take notes during the meeting, it is vital to provide written materials that summarize your request backed with statistics and evidence. Additionally, ask if you can provide the more detailed information after the meeting which brings up the all-important follow up email and hand written thank you note (yes, a hand written note).
Bottom line, you are selling your passion. Whether you meet with a legislator or their staff member, the passion you exhibit will be seen over your lobbying – passion sticks. Federal legislators have access to a wealth of research, while state legislators typically have limited access to research. You become part of their research team by providing them with balanced and accurate data – they will appreciate the data and YOU! Lastly, legislators whether state or federal see a much bigger picture – they must look beyond what is directly in front of them. Please do not be discouraged, but rather remember to sell your passion, and be patient and persistence as it may take several meetings and potentially a few years for your advocacy efforts to pay big dividends.
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