Advocacy Tips & Tools

Volunteers of America staff from around the country in front of the U.S. CapitolVisiting Your Members of Congress

Visiting your Senator and Representatives in their state/district or Capitol Hill office is the most effective way to introduce them to your work and advocate for your position on a policy issue.

Setting up a visit:
Members of Congress are typically in their home state Friday through Monday and/or during one of the congressional recess periods. When Congress is in session, Members of Congress are in Washington, D.C., during the middle of the week. To make an appointment to meet with a Member of Congress, call his/her appointment secretary/scheduler and give you name, organization, city and the issue you wish to discuss. If there will be others from you community joining you for the visit, inform the scheduler — it may be easier to obtain an appointment for a group rather than an individual. You can reach the Capitol Hill office of any Member of Congress at (202) 225-3121.

Before the Visit:

Know the issue. Become familiar with the legislation you will discuss in your meeting. Use fact sheets or issue briefs provided by Volunteers of America to learn about the goals of the legislation. If possible, read the legislation for specific information.

Plan your time. If you have more than one office to visit, schedule your visit with sufficient time to allow for meeting starting late, and time to get from one office to another. Do not arrive late. If you anticipate that you will be late, call ahead.

Keep your message simple. Plan your presentation to last only 5 minutes and no longer than 10 minutes. Be sure to include information about the connection between your work and the issue. Ask others to do the same to show the many different ways the issue will impact your community.

Share responsibility. Have more than one person in your group speak during the presentation. Prior to your meeting, outline what the group wants to cover in its presentation, and divide up roles and talking points. It is often helpful to choose who in your group will initiate and facilitate the meeting.

Be prepared. The Member of Congress will likely ask you questions. Answer questions about who you are and what you have presented. If you do not know the answer to question, promise to find out and get back to them.

Bring handouts. A letter from your organization on the issue is good material to have on hand.  You should also provide a brochure or a one-page description of your organization. You may also wish to give them a copy of the legislation and a fact sheet.

During a Meeting Expect:

A meeting on the Hill can, and will, take place anywhere: in a Member’s office, a committee hearing room, a cafeteria, the hall, or a reception area.

Interruptions, tardiness, sudden departures, and rescheduled or canceled visits. Anticipate bells ringing and changes in whom you will meet:

A neutral reaction. Members of Congress and their staff are seldom in a position to make firm commitment on the spot. A favorable response is a commitment to “do the best possible.” A more likely response is agreement to consider the proposal.

Begin by thanking the members of Congress or staff person for allowing you the opportunity to meet with him or her. Where applicable, also thank him/her for past support of your issues or organization.

Use your time effectively. Be clear about who you are, what you do, and what you want. The decision maker should leave the meeting with a grasp of how your agency relates to the issue at hand and its experience in the issue.

Be relaxed. Use a conversation tone in your presentation. Do not read a prepared statement.

Listen. The Member or staff person may have some important and relevant concerns about the issue. The Member or staff person may also have some suggestions that could help promote your position on the issue (i.e., they may know of other Members who might be supportive of your position, request that they play a leadership role with other members of Congress on the issue.  The Member may be willing to circulate a “Dear Colleague” letter, speak with other Members, or send a letter on your issue to the chair of the relevant committee. Make a note of all comments, concerns, and suggestions.

During the Visit:

Do not be surprised by a lack of interest, or what seems like a negative or skeptical reaction.

Do not be defensive or argumentative.

Do not answer a question if you do not know the answer. Make note about the question and tell him/her that you will call or write back with the answer.

Do not threaten a member of Congress or a staff person who does not support your position or issue with action against him/her by your organization. Such threats are always counterproductive.

Do not ignore, insult, or burn bridges with a Member of Congress or staff person, no matter how insignificant his/her role.

Do not make disrespectful remarks about the current administration (e.g., for not proposing sufficient funding for your program). Avoid criticizing any Members of Congress.

Do not talk negatively about a member of Congress or staff person to your colleague while you are in, or near, the congressional office buildings. No matter where you go — in the hallways, in the cafeterias, on the sidewalks — you never know who maybe listening.

After a Visit Remember to:

Send a note thanking the Member and/or staff person for the visit. Reiterate the major points you made during the visit and provide answers to any questions that you were unable to answer at the time or the visit.