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Visiting Policymakers

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 elected official's office and request a meeting (at least a few weeks in advance, if possible). Identify yourself as a constituent, if this is the case. If not, be sure to mention if your college or any of its campuses are in the policymaker’s district. Share some background on your institution and topics of interest.

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 attendees, noting whether they are constituents. Also state the time required (15 - 30 minutes is typical).

One week before, call to confirm. Make sure they have your cell phone number in case a last-minute change is needed. Don’t be surprised if you are assigned to meet with a staff person and not the policymaker. Staff are the elected official’s eyes and ears, so building a relationship with them is important too!

Dress Professionally Yet Comfortable
Wear business attire, perhaps in your college’s colors. If you have a college nametag or pin, wear it. Make sure your shoes are comfortable, particularly if you will be visiting multiple office buildings. (If you need to, wear comfortable shoes and bring a pair of dress shoes that you can change into before entering the policymaker’s office.)

Be on Time, Flexible and Brief
When meeting with a policymaker or staff person, be punctual, patient, and – above all – flexible. Meetings can be delayed or interrupted due to the policymaker’s crowded schedule. If your visit with an elected official is cut short, you may still be able to have time with the staff.

If you are visiting an elected official in Washington, D.C., give yourself extra time to get through security checkpoints. This applies in many state and local government settings as well.

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. Say who you represent, what you want to talk about, and why. 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 policymaker 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’s importance to the people in the community, local businesses, and the economy. Cite specific examples of its success in meeting your region’s needs and emphasize why maintaining an investment in workforce education is so important. Have a 1-2 page fact sheet 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.

Follow-Up
When you meet with elected officials and/or staff, thank them for their time. They appreciate, but seldom receive, thank you letters. Be among those who show appreciation for their support and you will be remembered!

Ask for their email address, so you can send any additional information. Invite them to visit your college.

As important as your one-time visit is, continue to follow the legislation and, as things change or new issues arise, be prepared to contact them again. If they vote on an issue as requested, thank them for honoring their commitments and supporting your position.


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