What the latest research says about contacting Congress

Emily Ellsworth
Mar 19, 2017 · 2 min read

One of the tricky things about constituent advocacy is that each lawmaker is different. In fact, in the House and the Senate, each individual office is effectively running their own business. When new lawmakers come to the Hill, they often rely on more established offices for best practices and advice. However, they are on their own to decide how to prioritize constituent communication.

This is why research and a variety of approaches are important. The Congressional Management Foundation compiles interviews from thousands of staffers into a report that is packed with valuable information. Their latest report was released less than a month ago, and it contains some key findings that you can implement today to make your calls and visits have an even greater impact.

<<download the report>>

Personal is always better.

When you’re first starting out with emails and letters, it’s normal to want to rely on advocacy groups or individuals for scripts and templates. However, don’t underestimate the power of your personal story. As much as you can, try to be authentic and original. There isn’t a magic combination of words that changes a legislator’s mind — it’s a slow burn of many personal stories from a variety of people that moves the needle.

Create a relationship with staff

If you want to take your advocacy to the next level, having in-person meetings with staff is the way to do this. It is possible for you to schedule an appointment for just you to meet with a staffer; however, I recommend teaming up with an advocacy group that has staff who are trained in how to schedule and plan these meetings. However, if you want to plan your own meeting here is a key takeaway: focus your meeting on one topic, present a clear agenda, and offer to meet with staff rather than the lawmaker at first.

Campaign donations mean less than you think

House and Senate ethics rules very clearly separate campaign activity from official business. I never had a meeting where a campaign donation or donor came up, and I honestly never knew who contributed money to my boss’s campaign. While it’s not true that campaign donations never have an impact, it’s not something you have to do to get in the door.

Make your communication local

While the big issues take a national stage, messages get muddled. More specifically, your representatives need to know how individual pieces of legislation affect the communities they serve. The more data you can provide from reliable sources, the better. And again, make that data and your research specific to the communities they represent for maximum impact.

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