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Whether you plan to meet with your legislator in Washington, D.C. or will schedule a visit with staff in your district office, keep in mind the following points when preparing for your meeting:

  • Each office schedules appointments differently, but usually they are arranged by the Washington or district scheduler. Your legislator’s office in Washington may be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard, 202/224-3121. Before you call, be prepared to tell the scheduler the date and time you would like to meet and the general topics you wish to discuss.
  • Whether your meeting is in Washington or in your home district, call the member’s office in Washington to speak with the legislative assistant who handles arts issues and notify him/her of your upcoming meeting. Doing so may help the member of Congress to be better prepared, and encourages a follow-up relationship with that assistant.
  • If you are joining other advocates for a group meeting, inform the scheduler of the number of people expected in your group and identify them. It is also important to meet with the other members of your group prior to the meeting to discuss what you want to achieve and to plan your presentation. Appointing one member of the group to lead the meeting with the legislator will result in a discussion that is focused, conveys a clear message, and extracts useful information.
  • Assume that the time allotted by the legislator’s office is “the real time”–don’t assume that once the meeting begins, you can extend the meeting time. (However, it often turns out that if a meeting is going well, you may get more time with the legislator than you expected.)
  • Be on time. An unwritten law of lobbying is that it’s okay (up to a point) for the legislator or staff to be late, but unacceptable for the lobbyist to be late.
  • Be sure to take some materials to the legislator or staff to illustrate or amplify your points, but do not overwhelm him/her with paper.
  • Don’t do all the talking–listen, and take notes too. Try to explore what the legislator’s views are.
  • # When the legislator asks questions, provide direct answers whenever possible. If you don’t know the answer, say you’ll get back to him or her. (Another reason for taking notes: you must follow up.)
  • If you wind up meeting only with staff even though you had an appointment with the legislator, take into account the circumstances. There is likely a legitimate reason that the legislator could not make the appointment. Remember that staff are important in the process as well; they are responsible for gauging constituents’ views on issues and communicating them to the legislator.
  • Don’t be discouraged if legislators decline to take a solid position or make commitments during your meeting. Using your own judgment, try to get a feeling for what their reservations are, how you can address them, and what realistic avenues you can pursue in the future to gain their support or modify their opposition.
  • Send a thank-you letter to the legislator or staff, restating the main points of the meeting. Also send any information requested in the meeting.
  • –HCW American Symphony League

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