HOW TO ARRANGE AND CONDUCT A VISIT WITH A LEGISLATOR, LEGISLATIVE ASSISTANT (LA), OR REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE
While face to face meetings may take more time to plan and follow up, they are the most effective way to communicate. A great opportunity to meet with your federal legislator is during Congressional recess when legislators are in their home districts.
BEFORE THE VISIT
Deciding With Whom to Meet
Even if you are unable to schedule a meeting with your legislator due to scheduling conflicts, the LA ultimately advises the legislator on the vote and is the person who actually drafts legislative language for consideration by the committees in the Senate and House. LAs also have a high turnover rate as they advance quickly throughout their legislative careers. One never knows where he or she will end up; running an elections campaign, becoming head over an agency, or joining the staff at the White House. Meeting with the legislator, the LA, or the regional representative are all very effective approaches for educating the legislator on adult education issues.
While one-to-one meetings can be very effective, it’s usually helpful to have a small group meet with the legislator, LA, or regional representative. Choose your group before scheduling the meeting.
Choose a Meeting Location
You have at least two options for arranging a visit in your state:
- schedule an appointment with the legislator, LA, or regional representative at the district or regional office in your state
- invite the legislator, LA, and regional representative to your program
Check the Congressional calendar to find out when legislators will be home and invite them to meet with adult learners and program staff. Visit your legislator’s web page to learn the process for scheduling meetings, or call the office and ask to speak with the scheduler. Scheduling the meeting often takes several contacts. Plan 2-4 weeks to lock in a date and time for a meeting.
Learn About the Legislator
Research the legislator’s background on his or her website. See on which committees the legislator serves and in what capacity. Review his or her recent press releases for a quick way to see what the legislator has been doing lately. Use this information when creating your questions and talking points so that you can hook adult education to the legislators’ interests when feasible.
Anticipate questions you might be asked. For example, how many adults participated in your program? How many earned a high school equivalency? How long does it take to learn English? You will not be expected to know all of the technical details or have all of the information on hand. It’s always acceptable to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you.” Then be sure to follow up promptly afterwards.
Train Adult Learners to Meet With Legislators
Telling one’s “story” isn’t always as easy as it may sound. Adult learners will benefit greatly by you spending time with them in advance to prepare their story and key talking points. Pima Community College, for example, has a Student Ambassador Program where they teach adult learners to be able to tell their stories confidently in front of audiences and with decision makers. Download these handouts to see how they prepare adult learners to meet with legislators:
- Ambassadors Program Philosophy: Student Leaders as Advocates
- Ambassadors Program History
- Elements of a Personal Story for Change (General)
- Ambassadors Training Do’s and Don’ts
- Sample Meeting
- Blank Agenda for Relationship Meeting
If you’re attending the meeting as a team, determine roles. For example, consider:
- Who will conduct the meeting
- Who will take notes
- Who will take pictures
- Who will speak about the program successes, the demand for services, and unmet needs
- Who will share success stories
Select What to Wear
Men should wear a suit and tie, or at least dress pants, a dress shirt, and a tie. Women should wear a suit or professional dress. Dress professionally while also being comfortable as long as possible.
Identify What to Bring
Consider bringing things like:
- Business cards or something that includes your contact information
- A camera phone with a flash and fresh charge
- Umbrella or rain jacket
- Notepad and pen or digital device
- A small package of “leave-behind” materials, for example:
- a one page fact sheet
- a student profile
- a recent newsletter
- a paragraph about the purpose of the meeting suitable for your legislator to include in his or her constituent newsletter, etc.
Provide new and updated information each time you visit.
DURING THE VISIT
If you are meeting at the regional office, plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early. Tell the receptionist that you have an appointment with your legislator, or provide the name of the LA or regional representative with whom you have an appointment. Give him or her your business card. You’ll be invited into the waiting area until the legislator, LA, or regional representative is available. You may not be the only people waiting for an appointment.
Wherever the meeting is conducted, it is customary for all parties to exchange business cards during introductions. Briefly identify your organization and its mission. This is a good time to offer a leave-behind packet of information. Don’t review the packet in detail unless asked.
Expect to meet for 15-20 minutes. If you are visiting as a team, you may wish to have the adult learner or graduate share his or her story early in the meeting. Then you might supplement the story with program data and the ask. Know that your legislator or LA may be so interested in the student that you do not have time to speak about your program.
Or, your team may decide to start with a brief interactive discussion of how the program is effective, and conclude with learner leaders’ stories. Use your time effectively and capture their interest early on.
Conduct the Meeting
The legislator, LA, or regional representative may take the lead in conducting the meeting. But if not, state the purpose of your meeting. Be brief in describing background information, and move quickly to the issues you wish to discuss. Tell at least one success story. If one or more adult learners or graduates are in the meeting, they should share the key points from their success stories.
Enjoy the opportunity and ensure each person has had a chance to contribute. Do not threaten legislators or LAs with losing votes or get upset if they do not agree with you. At the end, summarize any next steps and thank the legislator or LA for his or her time. This is often a good time to take pictures that you can use in a press release for your local paper.
AFTER THE VISIT
Follow Up and Become an Ongoing Resource for Your Legislator
Always send a follow up thank you email or fax. Outline the points covered in the meeting. Answer any remaining questions, and provide information on follow-up items if requested.
Then follow up regularly (perhaps 2-3 times a year) to keep them informed of issues that are important to adult education, invite them to speak during graduation, etc. If you provide valuable information, keep them abreast of changes, and are respectful of their time constraints, they may start coming to you with their questions about adult education!
Agenda for Relationship Meeting with a Legislator
- Set Up/Logistics
- We're happy you are here!
- We are students from Adult Education, and we are studying English and GED preparation.
- We’ve learned a little about your experience, your interests, and your work, and we want to learn more!
- Time – we know you’re a busy person, and we are too! We have about 20 minutes to meet.
- The purpose of the meeting is…
- To get to know you better, and to share about ourselves and adult basic education
- To see if there are ways we can work together in the future.
- We have some questions for you, and we’d like to share about ourselves too.
- First, ______ would like to share her story.
- Personal Story #1
- Personal Story #2
- Personal Story #3 (if time)
- Relationship Question
- Information Question
- Commitment Question
- Close the Meetings
- Summarize main points of the meeting
- Summarize next steps…..and thank you!