Personal visits with influential policymakers are an effective method of grassroots advocacy. These visits often lay the groundwork for future communication with the official and his/her staff.
Make Your Appointment in Advance
Call your public official's office and request a meeting (at least a few weeks in advance, if possible). For a member of Congress, try to make appointments when they are home on long weekends or during congressional recesses. When making the appointment, state the subject to be discussed and identify persons who will attend, noting whether they are constituents. Also state the time required (15 - 30 minutes is typical). The day before the appointment, call to confirm. Do not be surprised if you don't get to meet with your legislator but instead are assigned to meet with their staff. This is an opportunity to build a relationship with staff. They are the eyes and ears of the legislator so building a relationship with them is important too!
To find the contact information for your Member(s) of Congress, login to your NCWE membership page and select "Profile Homeâ€ť on the right hand rail of the webpage. If you have not updated your profile (your legislator's information will not be available on your profile home without an updated address in your profile), then visit the NCWE districting webpage: https://ncwe.site-ym.com/districting/default.aspx
When you make contact with a legislator it is critical that they know you reside in their district. Identify yourself as a constituent by providing your address, location of your college, and if contacting federal legislators, your congressional district. Also, identify yourself as a workforce education professional and that your expertise lies in workforce education, job skills training, basic skills education, etc. In addition, identify yourself as a member of NCWE and any other professional organizations germane to your advocacy work. This will further enhance your credibility and effectiveness by linking you to a broader advocacy effort.
Know the issue(s). Know the legislation or program you support and the impact it will have on your college, local community, and, if appropriate, on the nation. Try to refer to a specific piece of legislation by its number. And be concise! Â Public officials and their staff have limited time to devote to one issue. A one- or two-page issues brief that summarizes your points is likely to be read. The NCWE Government Relations website is a good place to find issue briefs or links to other organizations providing issue briefs.
Be on Time, Flexible and Brief
When it is time to meet with a public official, be punctual and patient. It is not uncommon for an official to be late or to have a meeting interrupted due to their crowded schedule. If interruptions do occur, be flexible. And do not be surprised if your visit is cut short. If so, be flexible and ask for time with the staff.
Structure Your Visit
Select a spokesperson. If there are two or more people going to the appointment, identify a spokesperson to lead the discussion and ask other members of the group to speak as the discussion moves along.
Make local connections. After introductions and handshakes, start the meeting with a comment about mutual interests (friends, activity in the state, a recent vote) to tie you or your program to the policymaker.
State the purpose of your visit. Tell the official who you represent, what you want to talk about and why you are talking with him or her. If you are advocating for a specific bill, be sure to refer to it by number, explain its status and indicate what action you would like the official to take. Be direct, but polite.
Use your expertise and share success stories. You are there to share your expertise on the issue you're discussing. Be prepared to share brief anecdotes and success stories to make your point. Be sure to identify how your community and the policymaker's constituents will be affected.
Discuss how your program serves the community. Discuss your program or organization and its importance to the community. Discuss the importance ofÂ community collegeÂ workforce education programs to the people in your community, local businesses and the economy. Cite specific examples of your program's success in meeting the particular needs of your area and emphasize why maintaining an investment inÂ workforce educationÂ is so important. It is a good idea to have with you 1-2 pages of information to leave behind as a future reference.
Listen carefully and answer questions truthfully. Allow the official to share his or her insights or positions with you. Though you may not agree, this gives you the chance to respond based on your knowledge and experience. Don't argue, but listen carefully and identify issues of concern or differences of opinion. Answer all questions to the best of your ability. If you do not know the answer to a question, say you don't know and promise to find the answer and get back to them.
Summarize major points. Wrap up the meeting by summarizing the major points of discussion and leave behind a fact sheet with your name, address and phone number.
Leave promptly. At the end of your allotted time, thank the policymaker and the staff for their time and leave promptly.
Whenever you meet with a public official it is important to follow-up and thank them for their time. Public officials appreciate, but seldom receive, thank you letters for actions taken. Be among those who show appreciation for their support and you will be remembered! Also ask if they need additional information. Invite them to visit your college. Nonetheless, as important as your one-time visit is, you need to continue to follow the legislation throughout the legislative and implementation processes and as things change or new issues arise, be prepared to contact your policymakers several times. And if they vote on an issue as requested, thank them for honoring their commitments and for their support of your position.
If you meet with a staffer, show them the same courtesy and thank them. Be sure to get their email address and send them a quick note and just like with your legislator, offer to serve as a resource and/or provide them with additional information. Remember that developing and maintaining good relationships with staff may be the most effective means to making your concerns heard.