Engaging Members of Congress
Arranging District Meetings
National Community Planning Month provides an opportunity for locals to incorporate a
meeting with their congressional representative. These visits are an excellent chance to
highlight the value planning brings to the community, advocate for issues vital to good
planning, and build a relationship with your member of Congress.
Scheduling and conducting district meetings is easy. Here are some simple, step-by-step
Scheduling Your Meeting
1. Locate Your Representative's District Office
The first step is to figure out the location and contact information for your Representative's nearest local office. APA maintains a complete online congressional directory. Enter your zip code to begin. Next, you will see your state and federal elected representatives. Click on your Representative's name and you will be directed to a page that lists the address, phone, fax, and e-mail for all the district offices, as well as lots of other useful background information on that Representative.
2. Draft a Written Meeting Request
When you contact the office to schedule a meeting, you will be asked to submit your request in writing (either fax or email). The request need not be detailed and should be kept to single page. Requests should be clearly labeled as a meeting request, addressed to the Representative, list the preferred date and time, note all participants, and identify the issue to be discussed. Be sure to note your local address and the fact that you are a constituent. If you know the name of the scheduler, include it in the address line. If not, list "ATTN: Scheduler." If you have flexibility in the timing of the meeting, note this in the body of the request. If you are willing to meet with staff in the event that the Representative is unavailable, be sure to mention this in your letter. Lastly, keep in mind that most meetings are relatively brief, so you may want to request only a 15–30 minute block of time.
APA offers a sample meeting request letter that you can customize for your meeting as part of its online National Community Planning Month materials.
3. Contact the Scheduler
Call the district office and ask to speak to the district scheduler. Please note that many offices have one scheduler for meeting in Washington and one for local meetings, so it's important to mention immediately that you want to request a district meeting. Make a note of the scheduler's name. Make your request verbally and then indicate that you will send a written request via fax or email. Ask the scheduler when you should follow-up on the request.
4. Submit the Meeting Request
Once you've spoken with or left a message with the district scheduler, send in your written meeting request. Don't send your request via regular mail. This will cause a significant delay in processing. Either fax or email or hand-deliver your written request. Some offices now have meeting request forms on their website so check there as well. Links to congressional websites are available on the online directory or you can look up your Representative's site at www.house.gov.
5. Follow up
It's an unfortunate reality but in most cases you will need to contact the scheduler again to follow up on the status of your meeting request. They may ask you to resend the written request. If you don't hear back in a few days after sending your initial request, call or e-mail the scheduler to check on the status.
Preparing for Your Meeting
1. Determine Your Message
Legislators hate meetings without a point or purpose. You don't have to meet about a specific pending bill (although that's often a good idea) but you should have a clear message and request that you want to convey. Try to make your message as specific and relevant as possible. Make certain that all your participants are 'on board' with the message. For further tips, see the information on conducting meetings below.
2. Coordinate Your Participants
Often your district meetings will involve more than one participant. This can be an effective way to conduct your meeting. Be sure that you keep the group to a manageable size, usually no more than five. Each participant should be well aware of the time and location of the meeting and, importantly, their specific role. Identify in advance what aspect of your information or issue each person will discuss.
3. Identify Your "Leave Behind" Material
It's a good idea to leave your Representative with some written material or information. This information provides helpful background for the staff and serves as a reminder of your visit. Leave behind material can take a variety of forms, including a one-page overview of your issue, a fact sheet, brochure, or other relevant information. However, avoid information overload. It is best to err on the side of brevity in providing 'leave behind' material.
Before your meeting, find a moment to discuss with your meeting participants the role that each will play. This can be done in a conference call or with a brief practice session immediately prior to the meeting. Everyone's confidence level will be improved by knowing their role and the overall game plan. This will also help you stay on message. Although it is a good idea for everyone to have a chance to speak, you should designate a meeting "leader" who will take charge of presenting information.
5. Send a Reminder
The day before your meeting send out a reminder to everyone planning to participate. Make sure that everyone is aware of the time and location of the meeting. Also, tell your participants to arrive early so that you don't have participants arriving late and you can begin your meeting as a complete group. Ask people to confirm their attendance so that you can make any adjustments to your presentation plan. Finally, you might want to call ahead to reconfirm the appointment with the congressional office.
Now you are all set for your meeting. All that's left is conducting an organized, persuasive meeting. A good meeting can set the stage for a relationship between local planners and the congressional office that will pay significant benefits.
Conducting Your Meeting
1. Be on Time
Members of Congress maintain incredibly hectic schedules, particularly during campaign season. Be respectful of their scheduling commitments. Arrive and be prepared to start the meeting on time.
2. Stay on Message
Have a message and stick to it. Avoid the temptation to engage in excessive and unrelated banter. Your message should be relevant, thoughtful, and compelling.
3. Go Local & Be Personal
One of the biggest assets that constituent advocates have is the ability to place broad policy issues in the local context. Explain how the issues you are discussing affect the community. Tell personal stories to highlight your points. Good local examples and information are very helpful and persuasive. It is particularly useful if you have any local data or research to support your message.
4. Make Your "Ask"
Every meeting should have some specific request. These "asks" can be specific to pending legislation (e.g., cosponsor a bill) or more general (e.g., make a floor statement about National Community Planning Month).
Always send a "thank you" letter after the meeting. This is also a chance to reiterate your position and touch on any promised actions. If you promised to provide more detailed information, don't forget to actually send it. If you need assistance, you should contact APA. Lastly, APA has created special meeting report forms and placed them online. Please fill out a form and send it to APA. Information gleaned from your meeting is invaluable to APA's advocacy efforts.
APA has more detailed advice on effective meetings. Check out the document "10 Legislative Meeting Strategies" for more information.
APA is available to assist you with your meeting. We have resources to help you identify your district office, the scheduler for congressional offices, and useful materials to leave behind at your meeting. If you have questions about scheduling or conducting a meeting, contact APA's Government Affairs staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-872-0611.