Arranging a Meeting With a Congressional Aide
Learning to work with legislative aides is important because they’re generally the only quasi-official types who have time to meet with you; your legislator is just too busy. Aides don’t have direct power but they do have a voice your legislator respects. While they’re not exactly your path to the Inner Sanctum of Decision-Making, they’re still the best way to get your message across, and that’s what you want.
How to set up a meeting with an aide
First, call your senator’s or representative’s local office and ask to speak to the person who handles youth and family issues or health and human services issues. Get his or her name. When the staffer gets on the line, identify yourself and your agency. Tell the person one or two sentences about what your agency does, and that you’d like to meet with them at their earliest convenience to talk about your issue (i.e. runaway and homeless youth in your community and your concerns about federal funding of youth programs).
Prepare for the meeting
Pretend you’re preparing a five- to 10-minute presentation to a potential funder or a newspaper reporter. Expect to brief the aide on what your agency does, who it serves, and why its work is important. Bring brochures and other relevant material to the meeting. Don’t assume the aide is familiar with your issue; in fact, he or she probably won’t be. Explain any acronyms you use. Tell stories of youth you’ve worked with and how you’ve intervened effectively on behalf of young people and their families. At the end of the meeting, say thank you and invite them for a visit. Mention that you’d also like a senator or representative to visit as well.
Increase your chances for success
If you live too far away from the local office or just want to make sure your message is heard, call the Washington, D.C. staff as well. When the staff person gets on the line, ask for five or 10 minutes of their time. Give a short presentation of who you are, what your concerns are and what you would like them to do (i.e., urge the senator or representative to vote up or down on a particular bill). Be concise and concrete, avoiding buzzwords and acronyms. Always end your conversation with an invitation to visit your agency and a promise to provide them with written materials.
Keep in touch
When you’re following up on a legislative alert, send the staffer copies of the letter you write. Call them to discuss other youth policy issues as they arise. Offer yourself to them as a source of information on youth. Visit the legislator’s Facebook page and read their Twitter feed so you can stay up-to-date on activities and political interests. Your goal is to make a legislative friend you can count on. The hope is that when you really need them, they will intervene on your behalf. (New to electronic advocacy? Check out Advocacy in a Digital Age before you get started.)