How Do I Get That Meeting?

August 18, 2014
by Jos G. Linn, Grassroots Manager for U.S. Poverty Campaigns

If you’ve had any connection to RESULTS over the years, you’ve probably heard the term “face-to-face meetings” (until you’re sick to your stomach!). At RESULTS, we are always coaching volunteers to set up these meetings. We do this not because it sticks another feather in our cap or makes us look good. We do it because we know that if you want to create the political will to end poverty, you have to talk face-to-face with the people who can make it happen. For us, this means sitting down and talking with members of Congress, the women and men who can implement practical solutions to end of poverty in the U.S. and around the world.

Last week, this blog series focused on the “why” of face-to-face meetings. Why they are so important? Why you need to keep asking for them? But many of you already know the answers to these questions. You want to meet with your representatives and senators in person, but you don’t know how to go about doing it. So in this installment, I’m going to talk about the “how” of getting these meetings.

Let’s be clear. Getting face-to-face meetings is hard. When you’re talking about members of Congress, you’re talking about people who represent hundreds of thousands (and, in the case of most senators, millions) of constituents. The demands on their time are relentless. But there are some things you can do to increase your chances of getting time to sit down and talk with them. And your effort will be well worth it.

First, the easy part – requesting a meeting. Making an initial request for a face-to-face meeting is not hard and not that time-consuming. The easiest thing to do is to call your representative’s or senator’s office and ask for the scheduler. Once connected, tell the scheduler who you are, where you’re from, and that you would like to set up a face-to-face meeting with your member of Congress. Be prepared to tell the scheduler what issues you want to discuss and how many people plan to attend the meeting. (Go in a group if at all possible.) Also, be flexible with your time; have a range of dates and times you can meet so they can fit you in their very busy schedule. You can find scheduler names and contact information for your members of Congress on our Elected Officials page.

Now, calling the scheduler is the easiest and quickest way to get a meeting, but it’s not always successful. More and more, congressional offices want meeting requests in writing. While this slows things down a bit, it is still very easy to do. Some members of Congress will have forms on their website you can fill out to request a meeting. You can also fax in your request or e-mail the scheduler directly with your request. To find out the best way to schedule a meeting with your particular legislator, call the scheduler as outlined above and if they ask you to submit your request in writing, ask what method they prefer (online, e-mail, or fax; if the latter two, be sure to get the correct contact info). If you’re not sure how to word your request, no worries. RESULTS has sample letters for both global poverty meetings that you can tailor to your needs.

So your request has been made, now what? Keep at it. Remember, members of Congress are getting hundreds of requests each month. If you think sending your one e-mail or fax will do the job, think again. A few days after you’ve made your request, call the office, ask for the scheduler, and ask if your request was received. If it was, can you book that meeting? If the request got lost, resend it. If the scheduler is not sure if you can get a face-to-face meeting, schedule a time to call back to check again. The key is persistence. When it comes to face-to-face meetings, the squeaky wheel does indeed get the grease.

But what if you can’t get a response, or every time you make a request, you get turned down? Unfortunately, many advocates face this situation. Here are a few things you can try to hopefully secure that elusive face-to-face meeting:

  • Don’t give up. As said above, be persistent. Make regular requests and follow up consistently with their offices. Get to know the scheduler and be flexible with your time. If your representative or senator is booked up for the next two months, go three months out. Let the office know that you are serious about this and that you intend to keep asking until you get a meeting.
  • Ask an aide for help. If you’ve gotten to know an aide in your House or Senate offices, ask if he/she can help you get a face-to-face meeting.
  • Find a local leader to make your request. Remember that you probably have powerful allies in your community who also care about these issues. These “grasstops” members of your community can be organizational leaders, faith leaders, business people, big donors, and others who also care about poverty. If your request is going unanswered, connect with a grasstops person – someone who is known or has influence in the community – and ask if that person would be willing to help set up a meeting. This helps you get something scheduled and potentially provides you with some additional credibility as well.
  • Attend a local event and ask for a meeting. Members of Congress like to be seen in the community, reminding constituents of the work they are doing. They do this via town hall meetings, public events, parades, business openings, etc. Attend these events and ask a question (which does count as a face-to-face meeting), but also use these brief encounters to push for that sit-down meeting. Catch them in the handshake line, in the hallway, or on the way to their car, and tell them that you and other volunteers would like to schedule a time to meet. It will be hard for them to say no right there on the spot; you can then take that back to the scheduler and tell him/her that you spoke to their boss and he/she agreed to meet with you.
  • Have a meeting with a local aide and ask for a meeting. If the office keeps giving you the runaround and won’t schedule that face-to-face meeting, go ahead and meet with a local aide. You can make your regular lobby requests to the aide and then push for a face-to-face meeting as well. Once the local aide has met you, perhaps he/she will put in a good word to help you get the meeting.

These are just a few options you have for scheduling your face-to-face meetings. I’m sure advocates have other successful strategies for getting meetings, and I welcome you sharing your best practices in the comments section below.

Remember that face-to-face meetings are like taking a vacation. They don’t happen often enough, they are a pain to schedule and get ready for, and they are great once you get there. The big difference is that, in this case, your effort won’t result in a cheap t-shirt, but instead be an empowering experience for you and have a profound effect on millions of people struggling in poverty.

If you have questions or need coaching about scheduling face-to-face meetings, please contact Jos Linn ([email protected]) for U.S. poverty meetings or Lisa Marchal ([email protected]) for global poverty meetings. You can learn more about preparing for and holding these meetings in the RESULTS Activist Toolkit.

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