A new survey of more than 450 legislative staff reveals some preferred protocol for planning and conducting meetings with members of Congress.
With the 114th Congress convening in January, many constituents, associations, nonprofits, and other organizations are focused on building new relationships with lawmakers and fostering existing ones.
A new survey from the Congressional Management Foundation highlights some of the preferred methods for planning, scheduling, conducting, and following up after a meeting with a member of Congress, based on responses from legislative staff.
According to “Face-to-Face with Congress: Before, During, and After Meetings with Legislators,” one of schedulers’ biggest pet peeves is the failure to follow through on the promise that a constituent will attend a meeting. “Groups’ reputations with members have been ruined through this sort of duplicity,” the report noted. “If a meeting is scheduled with a constituent, then someone who lives in the senator’s state or representative’s district should be in attendance.”
Planning a meeting. The report suggests familiarizing yourself with each chamber’s annual calendar, being as flexible as possible regarding date and time, and keeping the meeting group small. One House chief of staff reported that four at most in attendance is best.
Scheduling a meeting. Sixty-four percent of the more than 450 respondents said they prefer to get a meeting request from a constituent affiliated with an association, nonprofit, or corporation, as opposed to a Washington representative from those organizations. Most staffers said the ideal time for a request is three to four weeks in advance of the requested date, and most schedulers reported a request should include
- the meeting topic and requested meeting date
- primary contact’s name and address
- name and short description of the group.
Conducting the meeting. Survey respondents suggested arriving no more than five minutes before the scheduled meeting time. Visitors should remain flexible, in case the member is called to vote, keep political feelings out of the conversation, and stay on topic.
“The limited time allotted should be used to accomplish the goals for the meeting by making a clear, focused, and persuasive case and asking the legislator to do the thing they feel is most important to advance the issue,” the survey notes. “Future meetings can be scheduled to discuss other issues.”
Following up. When leaving, 94 percent of staffers said it’s helpful to leave behind a one-to-two-page summary of the issue, while 86 percent said a follow-up email with attached material is helpful. When following up, be sure to address any questions you weren’t able to answer during the meeting. To help further the relationship, attend events in the member’s district or state and keep in touch.
“It is unproductive to become what congressional staff call a ‘pen pal,’ or someone who over-communicates with them, but it is a good idea to touch base every once in a while,” the report notes. “If communications are informative, respectful, concise, and direct, they can go a long way toward helping the member and staffer keep the issue on their radar.”