What Happens at a District Meeting?
Meeting with your elected Members of Congress is a powerful way to raise the profile of issues you care about and to effect change. It is difficult for Members of Congress and their staff to be well-versed on every issue, so this is an opportunity to educate them. You do not need to be a scholar or expert to make a contribution to a policymaker’s understanding of abuses and oppression suffered by IJM’s clients, and millions of people like them. Remember, meeting with constituents is part of our elected officials’ job. It is also how policymakers gauge what is important to those living in his/her district or state. And it is how we help decide our government’s priorities.
Senators and Representatives return home to their states and districts during Congressional recesses, so district meetings are a great opportunity to meet with these policymakers while they are in your area. Usually a district meeting lasts 20-25 minutes. During that time, you’ll want to make a personal connection with the Member of Congress and/or their staff, provide background information on the issue you plan to discuss, and make a specific “ask” of your Member. Check out our Tips for a Successful Meeting and Sample Agenda for more information on how to conduct an effective district meeting.
Tips for a Successful Meeting with Members of Congress
Plan your Presentation
Establish the basic message and goal of the meeting and designate a leader for your group. Anyone joining the meeting with you should have a brief meeting together beforehand to discuss roles, the "ask," and talking points. The group leader should know what each person is planning to say. The participants should try to reduce redundancy, and speak from the heart about their personal experiences or observations. Have an agenda – you may not follow it exactly, but you should be prepared. (See Sample Meeting Agenda)
It is important that your meeting be ACCURATE, BRIEF & COURTEOUS.
ACCURATE – It is important to provide only the information that you know to be true. Knowing your facts helps establish you as a credible resource, but it is better to state that you don’t know the answer to a question than to take a guess. If you’re unsure, just let the Member/staffer know that someone else from IJM will follow up with the answers, and make sure to reflect that in your meeting report form.
BRIEF – Members and their staff are very busy. Therefore you want to clearly articulate the reason for the visit and avoid bringing up extraneous issues. While we all have a number of issues that we care about, remember that you are there to build support for efforts to eradicate child trafficking. Avoid diffusing your message.
Choose your facts, figures and stories carefully. Only use them to underscore a point. Cover the basics and make sure that the Member/staffer understands your message. Try to make your case in no more than 3-5 minutes (this can take practice). Keep in mind that your meeting might be interrupted, so be sure to get to the point early on in the meeting.
COURTEOUS – Your meeting with the Member/staff is part of a long-term effort to build support for a strong U.S. commitment to ending modern-day slavery and building public justice systems that protect the poor. You should see your role as beginning or continuing an on-going conversation. Successful advocacy involves building long-term relationships with policymakers and this meeting is just one step in the process. We need to be able to use the meeting as a stepping stone for other meetings/ requests, so you always want to be respectful and actively listen (and you can learn a lot about your Members’ views and priorities by listening well).
Additional Tips for a Successful Meeting:
- Be prompt. Members of Congress and their staff have busy schedules.
- Consider how to frame the issue you care about from the Member's perspective. Think about what motivates him/her. Does he/she serve on any relevant committees? (In this case, that would include the Senate Foreign Relations Committee/House Foreign Affairs Committee, House/Senate Judiciary Committee, and the House/Senate Appropriations Committees). Try to demonstrate a connection to the interests of your district/state. Who else cares about this issue? Is this issue important to your church? To learn more about your Members of Congress, visit their websites at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.
- If the Member does what you’ve asked, be sure to thank her and, if possible, commend her publicly.
Things to avoid:
- Don’t stretch the truth or make anything up.
- Don’t get into partisan political conversations. We need Members and Senators from across the political spectrum to support U.S. polices to confront injustice against the poorest. Please make the issue attractive to your Member or Senator, regardless of what your own personal views might be on their political party or voting record.
Sample Agenda / The Four "C"s
CONNECTION - Have each person participating in the meeting introduce themselves. This first introduction should include the organization you are with, where you live (especially if you live in the Member's district), a brief reason for your involvement in the issue and any other relationship building information that may be of interest to the Member.
ESTABLISH THE CONTEXT – Discuss the reason for your visit. Let them know that you are there to ask them to do something about human trafficking. Provide some context for the problem internationally and domestically and let them know why their support would make the difference.
ASK FOR A COMMITMENT – Prior to the meeting, assign one person to ask the Member/staff person to make a specific commitment. This is the most important part of the meeting. You want to be clear and ask for something specific. ("Can I count on you to...?") Make sure the question is clear and direct. If you are unable to get a commitment during the meeting, work with the Member/staff person to develop a plan and timeline for when you will receive an answer.
CATAPULT — Establish a clear plan with the staff member for follow-up and the timeline for when you will be in touch again. Offer to be a resource moving forward. Always thank the Member/staffer for taking the time to meet with you. Let them know how to stay in touch with you. Leave a packet with more information with the Member/staffer.
Follow Up to the Meeting
After each meeting, please take the time to fill out the Meeting Report Form while the information is still clear in your mind. Report any of the Member's questions, comments and opinions, and be sure to include any specific follow-up that the Member/staffer requested.
Send a thank you letter and any requested or additional information.