Didn’t get the meeting you wanted in the August recess? Keep going — persistence pays off!

September 5, 2023
by Ken Patterson

Why do we say, “persistence usually pays off”? 

Our senators are two of 100 people in a country of over 330 million people. Our representatives are one of 435 representing those same people. So, it may be hard to imagine having a relationship with these lawmakers, but that’s exactly what RESULTS trains advocates to do. And persistence is one of the ways we make it happen. 

So, what does it look like to be persistent and build relationships? Here are some ideas:  

  • Don’t be all business. Learn about your members of Congress and staff through research and conversation. Ask them about themselves. 
  • Follow up until you get an answer — that could mean sending five or six emails and making three to four calls just to get a “no.” 
  • Whatever the response, use it to further build rapport, gather information, and provide information.  
  • No matter how many times you follow up, remain respectful and calm. No relationship was ever built on a foundation of anger or mistrust. 
  • With each follow up, provide new, persuasive information — a piece of media, a video, or a data point. You can also let them know — even in the email subject line — how many times you’ve tried to contact them (3rd request, 4th request, etc.). 
  • Copy other advocates on your messages so staff know there are others who care.  
  • Reply on top of your previous emails so there is a history of communication with the office. 
  • Send new information to the key aide at least once per month. This can build rapport and show your knowledge on an issue. 

Below is a real set of five email exchanges I (Ken Patterson, Director of Grassroots Impact here at RESULTS) had with my senator’s office about signing the Dear Colleague letter calling for the Biden Administration to lead on robust action against tuberculosis (TB) at the upcoming United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB: 

Exchange #1: I sent the original request about the Dear Colleague letter on Tuesday, August 1 and heard back from the aide on Tuesday, August 1 that they’d review the request. I was surprised.  

Exchange #2: I followed up on Thursday, August 3, a day before the original deadline on the letter and got an out-of-office message from the aide. Ugh!  

Exchange #3: I followed up on Monday, August 7 with different aides when the letter’s deadline got extended. I received this message back from the office on Tuesday, August 8, “Thanks so much for reaching out. We are going to pass on the letter.” 

Exchange #4: This is common — to either not hear back or get a response with no explanation. Here was my response: 

Hi [name of aide], 

Thanks for the response. Any reason you can provide us on the Senator’s decision to not sign? It will help us understand how the Senator and staff think about issues like TB, and how we might better work with the you and the Senator in the future. 

Thanks for your consideration. We did hear from our other Senator today that he signed on to the letter, FYI.  

Exchange #5: I did not hear back from the office after this, but after the deadline was extended again, I wrote this on Friday, August 11: 

Subject: Good News. New 9/7 Deadline TB Sign-On Letter 

Hi [name of aide], 

Happy Friday. Some good news on the TB letter — the sign-on date has been extended until Sept. 7, after the recess. This should provide more time for review and consideration with the Senator. 

In the meantime, please let us know what you need to see this request favorably. Do you need more information? Does the Senator need to hear from more constituents on this? We have 950 RESULTS advocates in the RESULTS North Carolina (NC) network, not to mention partner organizations working on global health. NC is a leader in global health research and development, health systems strengthening, and international health development — there are a lot of North Carolinians who would appreciate the Senator’s support on this letter and other global health and development issues. As a Returned Peace Corp Volunteer who served in Niger, I know how important U.S. leadership is on these issues. 

You can see how I further made the case on TB and global health in my follow-up. The idea is to stay in front of them, provide compelling information, build rapport, and never, ever, go away. In the end, persistence usually pays off. 

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