How RESULTS Influences Congress

May 26, 2009

RESULTS volunteers meeting with congressmanHi there. This is Meredith Dodson, the director of U.S. campaigns for RESULTS. You’ve learned how RESULTS chapters works and now I’d like to share how RESULTS influences Congress.

You may be wondering why RESULTS focuses on Congress in the first place. The answer is simple: it’s because “that’s where the money is.” The U.S. federal government has a tremendous amount of resources, and we work to make sure some of those resources are used to end poverty on this planet. We focus on providing health care, education, and economic opportunity for all.  

Each RESULTS chapter works with their local members of Congress — both of their U.S. senators and representatives from their local congressional districts. As a non-partisan organization, RESULTS works with members of both political parties. 

To influence members of Congress, first we find out where they stand on the issues we care about. Then we work step-by-step to win them over. If they oppose us on an issue, then it’s our job to make them neutral. If they’re neutral, we want to make them a supporter. And if they’re a supporter, our goal is to turn them into champions for our issues.

A champion is not just someone who supports our positions, but someone who makes our issues a top priority. A champion is someone who will go to the mat for us.

Over the years, our champions in Congress have played a major role in increasing funding to fight deadly diseases, extending microcredit to over 100 million people, and providing educational opportunities here and around the world.   

Once we know where our members of Congress stand, what tactics do we use to influence them? 

  1. The most powerful way to influence members of Congress is to meet face-to-face with senators and House members. In these meetings, you will speak directly to your members of Congress about the issues we care about, and ask them to take specific actions. These meetings can take place in Washington, D.C., or in your local district office. Face-to-face meetings are one of the most empowering experiences for advocates. Imagine sitting across from your representative or senator making a reasoned and passionate argument for the end of poverty. It doesn’t get much better than that. Here is an example: in 2007 and 2008 (MD check), RESULTS volunteers in Iowa met repeatedly with Senator Tom Harkin. Harkin represents Iowa in the U.S. Senate and at the time he was also chair of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee. In these meetings, RESULTS volunteers encouraged Senator Harkin to make fighting hunger a priority. Harkin drafted Senate legislation that allocated an average of $1 billion per year to expand the food stamp program and fill the shelves of food banks throughout America. You can have that sort of influence!
  2. Another way RESULTS influences Congress is by building relationships with congressional staff members. There are too many issues for members of Congress to keep up with on their own, so, they rely a great deal on their staff for research, opinion, and support. These “staffers” can be powerful allies if you get them on your side. Think how effective it would be to have a congressional staffer making the case for the end of poverty with your member of Congress. Each time you make a phone call or send a letter to your senators’ or representative’s aides, you’re educating them on the issues. RESULTS will show you the most effective ways to build relationships with these staffers.
  3. A third tactic RESULTS uses is to ask members of Congress to speak with colleagues in Congress about our issues. I’d like to tell you a little secret about Congress. Much of the work in Congress is done in committees. So each RESULTS chapter asks its local members of Congress to speak to colleagues who sit on committees that deal with the issues we care about.

    Here’s a story that shows why this tactic is important. From 1994 to 2000, a congressman named Sonny Callahan chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This committee deals with international child health issues, as well as many other issues. In one of his last speeches as chairman, Callahan said that more of his colleagues had expressed support for international child health programs than for any other part in the foreign aid budget that his committee handled. It was RESULTS volunteers around the country who urged their members of Congress to speak to Representative Callahan about these programs. The result was that he considered it the most important issue that he had ever worked on in Congress — and he acted accordingly. Volunteers like you made this happen!

  4. A fourth way we influence Congress is to build support for our positions in the media. Members of Congress pay close attention to the media — both local and national — so media coverage can have a big influence on what happens in Washington. For example, in 2007 RESULTS volunteers got letters to the editor, op-eds, and editorials published around the country calling for an expansion of children’s health insurance. Hundreds of pieces got published. Largely because of this media coverage, a bill we supported was signed into law two years later. RESULTS will teach you how to generate this kind of media in your community.

  5. Finally, getting others in your community involved can make a big difference in ending poverty. When we demonstrate broad community support for our requests, members of Congress listen. Getting community members to write letters, make calls, or sign on to letters can sway decision-makers.

Again, the five tactics RESULTS uses to influence Congress are:

  1. Meeting with members of Congress;
  2. Building relationships with congressional staff members;
  3. Getting members of Congress to speak with colleagues;
  4. Generating coverage in the media;
  5. And, getting community members involved.

As former congressman Tony Hall said, RESULTS is “pound for pound, the most effective lobby in Washington.” It’s your work with Congress that makes that happen!

Our primary focus is to support you in being the most effective advocate for the end of poverty that you can be. 

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