Best practices on Capitol Hill
Congressional staff share how advocates can get message across.
What’s the best way to connect immediately with lawmakers? Hone your elevator pitch, congressional staffers say.
If you can get through your introduction, priorities, and message quickly, you can make an impact on your representatives and open the door for follow-up questions.
“Know what you’re asking for and deliver that to staffers,” says Jennifer Haynes, legislative director for Rep. Darrell Issa, D-Calif.
Haynes and Andrew Noh, chief of staff for Rep. Marilyn Strickland, D-Wash., addressed the 2022 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) Monday to share how to connect with lawmakers.
The duo discussed congressional members’ schedules and how to best penetrate that schedule with an advocacy message.
“A member of Congress’ schedule during in-session weeks, during appropriation season, is probably scheduled in five-minute increments. That member’s time is being scheduled in very tight, precise blocks because the demands of the member are so high,” Noh says. “We want to give constituents as much time as they need and as much time as we’re able to give. The time demands of a member are so much greater than that of a staffer.”
Therefore, Noh and Haynes say advocates shouldn’t be dismayed if a staffer takes their meeting rather than a representative. The staffer, whether it’s the chief of staff, legislative director, legislative aid, or staff assistant, might have more time to dedicate to the issue and more knowledge about the specific topic.
“Whoever you’re meeting with usually knows the issue portfolio best,” Noh says. “We are trusting someone else in our operation to be the subject matter expert.”
Whether speaking with a lawmaker or staffer, Haynes suggests that advocates don’t treat the meeting like a business presentation. Rather than navigating through a PowerPoint, she suggests giving an elevator pitch and try to make a personal connection.
While the pandemic shifted many advocacy sessions online, Haynes believes advocates can maximize the benefit of virtual conversations by treating them the same as in-person meetings.
“When you’re in person, you typically spend at least 30 seconds to a minute saying, ‘Oh, it’s cold outside. Where in the district are you from? What are you working on?’ Having that personal connection—no matter what arena you’re in—is always important,” Haynes says, adding that advocates should then talk through their main bullet points. “If it’s a new issue, I’ll probably want to hear an overview before I get into the weeds about it.”
There may be time to immediately get in the weeds and ask follow-up questions. However, that may also come after the meeting.
Consequently, any communication between an advocate and a policymaker should include attachments or links to sign-on letters. Detailed, clear next steps are the best way to ensure follow-up action.
“Every member of Congress deeply cares about what businesses and individuals in their community care about. They want to hear from those individuals,” Haynes says. “And someone can only be in so many places at once, so it’s really important for all those things to be expressed so that the member is aware of it and can take action.”
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