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Making the Pitch
1. Brainstorm event themes that relate to hot-button issues. Members of Congress are much more likely to take time out of their schedules to make an in-person visit if your proposed topic of conversation will help push forward their policy priorities. Finding a way to tie in your issues with current events is key.
2. If you work at a university or college, contact your federal relations officer. Your federal relations officer likely has existing congressional relationships and contacts in local offices. He/she may be able to help coordinate communication between you and the member of Congress and navigate the policies and protocols of your institution regarding events with policymakers.
3. Research the legislative calendar to determine when your member of Congress may be available. Both the House and Senate have different schedules of being in session (working on Capitol Hill) and in recess (when members of Congress go back to work in their states or districts, or travel on delegations abroad). You can find the congressional Senate schedule at www.senate.gov/legislative/2017_schedule.htm and the House schedule at www.house.gov/legislative. Your federal relations officer may also be able to help with this.
4. Send a letter with dates to your member of Congress. Your initial ask should have specific dates and times—you want to make it as easy as possible for the member to commit.
5. Briefly explain the event and why it is important. Make them understand how visiting your campus and discussing your issues is vital for their agenda. Don’t make this explanation too long, though—you want to be concise so that busy staff members will read it and quickly understand the issue. Also be sure to include the full agenda—is this a private or public event? Is there a specific event you want the member of Congress to speak at? Will there be opportunities for smaller round table conversations or meet and greets with institutional leadership?
6. Consider inviting Congressional staff to attend and/or speak as well. When a Congressional staff member cares about your issues, it can be just as influential as when a member cares about your issues. Make sure to build strong relationships with the people who have the member’s ear.
Coordinating the Event
1. Connect your institution’s Public Relations or Communications team with Congressional staff. Once a member has agreed to visit, one of the most important things you can do is promote the event within your community. Advertise the visit as a must-see event. Make sure your school’s public relations team is coordinating with the member’s staff to spread the word and invite the press—when members of Congress commit to a visit, they want people to know about it!
2. Coordinate social media opportunities during the event. A good photo-op and positive online buzz can help strengthen your relationships with both campus leadership and the member of Congress.
3. Strategize stories for possible in-person meetings. Your member likely won’t have an excess amount of time to chat with everyone. If there is an opportunity for a brief discussion and introduction before or after the event, prioritize introducing people who are more likely to have a lasting impact. Stories move policy, and opportunities to share a compelling story in-person with a member of Congress are rare.
After the Event
1. Send a thank-you immediately after the event. Make sure to send a personal thank-you email or letter to the member’s staff and to the member, emphasizing how much you appreciate their time and how important your issue is.
2. Express appreciation through social media. One of the best ways to thank your member of Congress for visiting your campus is to publicly commend their visit and express your appreciation for their hard work.
3. Stay in contact with Congressional staff. You now have a valuable connection to your member of Congress, and it’s your job to maintain that relationship—so keep calling, emailing, and tweeting to advocate for your issues and make your voice heard!