The work of RESULTS focuses on changing policy and securing the right investments from Congress. RESULTS has developed tried-and-true methods that can help you be an effective and successful advocate with decision makers in Washington.
E-mail is a great first step in starting a conversation with a legislator, registering your concerns and interests, and building courage regarding your power as an advocate. The process of crafting an e-mail to your legislator is also a good way to begin getting to know how to research your member of Congress.
If this is your first time reaching out to your member of Congress, you need to know how to reach him or her. You can find out the name and contact e-mail for your member of Congress on the RESULTS website.
Next, create and send your e-mail. The EPIC format (Engage, state the Problem, Inform about a solution, give a Call to Action) is very useful to the process of crafting an advocacy message to your legislator.
This milestone takes things offline and starts making them more personal. Making a phone call to your member of Congress can be an intimidating prospect, but it will be the next step in creating a solid relationship with your legislator and his or her office staff, as well as the next step in building your advocacy muscles.
Members of Congress need to hear from their constituents. They depend on you to educate them about what is happening in their district or state and what legislation is most important to their constituents. Writing a letter and making a follow-up phone call only takes a few minutes of your time, but it ensures that the people who make decisions on your behalf every day know how you want to be represented.
Be sure to introduce yourself and share why you care about the issue. Use the EPIC laser talk format to create a concise and powerful letter. See an example of a letter to Congress below.
In your letter, be sure to request a reply and include all of your contact information. Once you’ve sent your letter, wait a few days and then call to make sure the aide that handles these issues received your letter.
One of the secrets of RESULTS’ success has been our relationship-building work with the congressional aides who handle issues of hunger and poverty. These aides often meet daily with their representatives and senators to offer advice and to interpret the thousands of bills that are introduced in Congress each year. Developing relationships with these aides so that they become our allies in our quest to make champions of our members of Congress is a key component in building the necessary political will to end hunger and poverty in the U.S. and around the globe.
Members of Congress spend time in Washington, DC, and in their home districts. When they are home, they often meet with constituents and special interest groups or hold community open houses and town hall meetings. Locate your member of Congress or candidate. Visit the congressional calendars (www.house.gov and www.senate.gov) to find out when your legislators are scheduled to be in home districts for “District Work Periods.”
Get familiar with your member of Congress or, if applicable, the other candidates. Research members of Congress and candidates on their campaign websites, and see what kind of language they use and what’s important to them.
Prepare your questions, arrive early, and sit near the microphones. Make sure you raise your hand “first, fast, high,” and stay polite and on message. Finally, send written follow-up. Within a few days, e-mail a letter to the member of Congress or candidate and the staff person. Mention that you were at the meeting or forum and recap your issue, question, or request.
A truly powerful meeting with a member of Congress is built on much more than factual information and straightforward requests. It involves speaking, listening, and asking questions in ways that invite us and the member of Congress to be vulnerable, to be moved, and to be sensitive to the very real issues of poverty.
If possible, call at least a month or more in advance to schedule your meeting. Know the date(s) you prefer, what you would like to speak to the congressperson about, and approximately how many people will be attending the meeting. Not sure how to get connected? Call the Capitol Switchboard in Washington, DC, at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your member of Congress’s office, or dial the number directly if you have it. Ask to speak to the scheduler, book your meeting, and make sure to confirm. Read on to learn how to prepare well so that your meeting is as effective as possible.
In the process of moving members of Congress (MoCs) toward being champions for our cause and deepening the relationship with MoCs and their staff, RESULTS partners may find that they have formed a strong enough working relationship with an office to merit having regular meetings with these offices (generally with specific aides).
Here are some steps you can take to facilitate having regular meetings with your MoC’s staff:
Another key tool in your advocacy toolbox is scheduling members of Congress to visit areas or programs that are affected by or trying to alleviate poverty. These visits put a face on the problem for legislators and see how people in their constituency are working to solve it.
Here are a few tips you can use in setting up a site visit with a member of Congress:
Tips adapted, in part from materials from the Early Care and Education Consortium.
The goal of RESULTS is to create champions in Congress. That’s where our RESULTS Champion Scale Tool comes in. A champion is not someone who merely votes the right way or supports a bill that we support. A champion is a member of Congress who makes one of our issues a priority and goes to the mat for it. Champions don’t just want to do their part; they want to do more than their part.
First, as activists we learn where our members of Congress stand on each of the issues we care about. Next, we note that most members of Congress are informed by the following sources: colleagues, staff members, constituents, the media, experts, and their own experiences. Over time, you’ll become a resource for your member of Congress and their staff, offering effective solutions to hunger and poverty. Members of Congress will realize that you care about the issues, that you offer valuable information, and that you are not going away. The goal of RESULTS is to motivate our members of Congress to continually take the “next step.” Every member of Congress is in a different position — some are opposers and some are enthusiastic supporters. But every member of Congress can do more. Read on for what a next step might look like.
Reaching a level of relationship with your member of Congress that enables 24-hour turnaround on phone calls is as much a qualitative description as it is a concrete goal. As Sam Daley-Harris has explained, senators and representatives all have go-to people, people they are in regular contact with, people they trust, and people with whom they have tight relationships. Why can’t some of those people be us? It’s not unachievable, but it takes persistence and patience.
However, there is no secret formula to making this happen; no one-time action that will reach this goal overnight. Instead, it is a matter of persistence, patience and seizing the opportunities presented to you. We have given you the tools. By working through the Advocacy Basics, you can create this kind of a relationship with your member of Congress. With time, you will see progress in the depth and mutuality of your relationship with your legislator.
Find the work of Congress to be a mystery? Have questions about how bills are made and passed? Take a look at our explainer on the legislative process.