For Congressional Fly-Ins, Think Small
A new study by the Congressional Management Foundation reveals what Hill staffers want from constituent visits—and what associations need to do to plan a productive fly-in.
Less is more when it comes to visiting Capitol Hill, according to a new study sponsored by ASAE’s Power of A campaign and conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF).
In earlier research, CMF determined that in-person constituent visits are the top method for influencing legislators. The new report, “Best Practices for Fly-Ins and Relationship Building on Capitol Hill,” details how to make those visits as productive as possible.
Researchers surveyed 50 House chiefs of staff and found that when meeting with constituents, Hill staffers prefer fewer people in the room and one to two pages of leave-behind material after a meeting.
“If you bring in more people, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get more attention just because you have the bodies,” said James Vaughn, special consultant at CMF, during a webinar this week explaining the results of the survey.
Survey respondents said constituent meetings should generally include no more than four people. Roughly 94 percent of respondents also said a one- to two-page issue summary was the most helpful amount of information to leave behind, while only 18 percent of respondents thought reports of five pages or longer were helpful.
Congressional staffers also prefer to be prepared in advance of a meeting with constituents.
“The most surprising finding was the fact that Hill staff said they want more information in advance of a meeting rather than at the time of meeting,” Vaughn said. “They want time to understand who’s coming and the issues to make them more productive during the meeting.”
And the best time to set up a meeting with a House member or his/her staff? Three to four weeks in advance, said more than three-quarters of the respondents. A majority, 64 percent, also said they would prefer that the meeting request come from a constituent, as opposed to 7 percent who would prefer to receive the request from a Washington representative.
Hill staffers cited one pet peeve: the “bait and switch,” in which a representative arranging a visit says constituents will attend a meeting, but they do not. “This will be noted by the office for future requests and tarnishes the credibility of the organization,” the survey noted.
Vaughn also advised constituents and their Washington representatives to be prepared and focused when walking into a meeting on the Hill.
“They should not only know their own materials, but also understand the legislator—what committees have they served on, what positions they’ve taken in the past, etc.,” Vaughn said. “They should focus on their key ask.”