Personal meetings with your members of Congress and/or their staff is an effective way to communicate with policy makers about issues that are important to you and to the MDA Community. These visits give you the opportunity to educate Congress about your concerns, establish relationships with your members of Congress, and offer yourself as a resource to the office. Meetings can take place in Washington, D.C. or in district offices.
MDA wants to support you to make the most of these meetings. The tips below can help you plan and execute your visits. We can also help with scheduling and follow up, so don't hesitate to call on us in the MDA Advocacy office at email@example.com if you have any questions or need assistance.
When meeting with members of Congress about MDA’s policy priorities, be sure to contact us so we can share fact sheets and other resources with you prior to your meeting.
Scheduling the Meeting
- You need a scheduled meeting. Whether you are traveling to Washington, D.C. or requesting a meeting with your member(s) of Congress in a local or district office, you will first need to make an appointment. You will not want to count on being able to see a legislator by ‘dropping in.’
- Timing counts. When scheduling an appointment with a district office, aim for a time when the legislator will be home for a long weekend or during a congressional recess.
- These dates vary from year to year, but generally include: President's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, the second part of July (in a presidential election year), the month of August, and Labor Day.
- To see the dates when Congress is in session in 2016, click the following links:
- Set out the agenda. When requesting the meeting you will want to clearly indicate which issues and/or bills you would like to discuss.
- If you plan to ask for the legislator to support a specific bill, first determine whether s/he is already a co-sponsor of that legislation.
- Who will attend. If you will be part of a group of visitors, be sure to let the office know the total number of attendees and the names of all attendees. Space can be very limited in the offices and you will want to make sure they are prepared to accommodate your group.
Preparing for the Meeting
- Do your homework. Make sure you are familiar with all of the aspects of the issue(s) you would like to discuss in the meeting. If you will be meeting on one of MDA’s policy priorities, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org in advance so we can share our fact sheets and other resources with you prior to your meeting.
- Keep it simple. Even if multiple complex issues are of interest to you, try to narrow your focus to one or two key issues that have clear requests or "asks" associated with them.
- Have realistic expectations.￼￼ If your meeting will be in the legislator’s office on Capitol Hill, be prepared to meet with staff members if the member of Congress is unavailable. Also, be prepared for a very brief meeting. Depending on the other scheduling demands, your meeting could be as short as 15 minutes and could take place in a hallway or a waiting area.
- Going in a group. Make sure you have a plan in place as to who will lead the meeting, who will leave behind the materials, etc. Always keep the group to a small number (five or fewer is often ideal).
- Also, make sure your group agrees—before the meeting—on what the key issues are and what the “ask” will be. Attending meetings in a group format can be very effective, but only if the group is prepared and well organized.
- Be on time! Being on time is critical. If you will be late or need to cancel, it is imperative to let the office know as early as possible.
- Prepare ‘leave behind’ materials. Concise summaries and brief fact sheets are the most impactful. You can always reach out to the MDA Advocacy staff to see whether or not they have materials on the issue you will be addressing (contact email@example.com)
During the Meeting
- Arrive 5-10 minutes early. Do not arrive more than 15 minutes early, as space is at a premium and the office may not have room to accommodate extra people. If you arrive very early and are visiting the Washington, D.C. office, you can wait outside of the main doors to the office until a few minutes prior to your scheduled meeting time.
- Start at the beginning. Unless you are known to the office or have a relationship with or connection to the person you are meeting with, make sure to introduce yourself and remind the person you are meeting with why you are there, who you are affiliated with, and what you would like to discuss.
- Start with a smile. Always start meeting on a positive note—thank the legislator or staff member for their time. Do not start the meeting with a complaint, insult or criticism.
- Be considerate. Be mindful of the busy schedule that the legislator must maintain and do not take more of their time than was set aside for your meeting.
- Be clear and concise. Clearly state why what you are asking for and explain why it is important. Anyone can make a request—what makes an impact is why you are making your request. Share how the issue impacts you, why it is important to you, and/or how it will effect you and those you are representing.
- Don’t make it up. If you are asked a question that you do not know how to answer—do not make anything up. It is always acceptable to say that you do not know, and that you will get back to them as soon as possible.
- Ask for clarification. If you do not understand something that is happening or being discussed, politely say so, and ask for an explanation.
- Don’t expect (or demand) an answer in the meeting. As you are concluding the meeting, thank the legislator or staff again for their time and reiterate your request so it is clear. Do not expect an answer to your request at the meeting—especially if you are meeting with staff.
After the meeting
- Follow up promptly. Send a thank you note and follow up quickly with any information you offered to provide at a later time or were asked to share.
- Share information about your meeting. Let us know about your meeting at firstname.lastname@example.org and whether we can assist with follow up.