Visiting Elected Officials
Setting up a visit with an elected official is a great way to advocate for issues related to arthritis. Get tips for setting up your visit here.
As a member of the Arthritis Foundation’s army of Advocates, it is important to establish a relationship with your elected officials and their staff. A great way to do this is setting up a face-to-face meeting to discuss issues relevant to arthritis and share your personal story. While you can discuss specific legislation with your elected official, you don’t have to start there. You can simply start a conversation based on an issue or concern you have. Use this guide when reaching out to your elected official’s office to set up your meeting.
Requesting a Visit is Easy!
Each office has a preferred method of communication. Call the office of your elected official first and ask to speak with the scheduler. Often, they will ask you to fax your request, but they may prefer an email.
If you are scheduled to meet with a legislative aide, don’t be offended. They are the issue expert and have great influence with the elected official. Though you may have scheduled a meeting with the elected official, he or she may not be able to make it due to last minute scheduling conflicts.
It’s often easier to meet with the elected official in their district office. If you are scheduling a meeting with a Member of Congress, try to meet when they are home (in-district), as their schedules are often more flexible then. U.S. Senators typically have more than one office in their home state. If someone will be joining you in your meeting, be sure you give the full names of all participants to the scheduler. Be clear about what you intend to discuss. Don’t show up with surprise topics.
Use this list of tips to prepare for your meeting, which will help ensure you are ready to deliver a compelling message and make a positive impact.
Phone Call Tips
- Keep it short and sweet (under five minutes).
- State your name and where you live.
- State the purpose of your call: scheduling a meeting with the elected official and/or relevant staff.
- State the Issue
- Briefly share why you care about the issue, including some background and supporting information.
- Tell them who will attend the meeting.
- Tell the scheduler how you can be reached (via email and/or phone).
- Keep it short and sweet (under three paragraphs).
- State your name and where you live.
- State the purpose of your letter: scheduling a meeting with the elected official and/or relevant staff.
- Tell them who will attend the meeting. m Close with how you can be reached (via email and/or phone).
Before the Meeting
Contact the scheduler
Reach out to your elected official’s office to set up an appointment for a meeting. State the topic you wish to discuss at the meeting and who will be in attendance.
Spend some time practicing what you will discuss with your elected official.
Create clear, easy-to-understand talking points for yourself.
Keep it brief
Don’t overload the elected official or staffer with numerous concerns. Limit yourself to two main issues per meeting.
Make a leave-behind packet
Put together a packet of “leave-behind” information for your elected official and staff. Remember to bring extra copies of these materials for every staff person who attends the meeting. This packet should include relevant documents such as:
- A fact sheet about your issue
- A copy of the legislation you are supporting/opposing
- Press releases, news stories or blogs about the issue
- Your business card or contact information
Do your homework
Before you go to your meeting, research your elected official to learn about their legislative background, including his or her committee assignments and voting record.
During The Meeting
Be on time
Plan your visit ahead of time and know exactly where you are going.
Dress for success
Meetings with elected officials and their staff are typically formal and you should dress professionally.
You have a lot to offer, whether it’s a personal story or just information on an issue. Elected officials and their staff members appreciate information from constituents.
Keep it brief
Meetings with elected officials and their staff typically last between 15 and 20 minutes. You may also be asked to meet in an unusual place like a hallway or in cramped quarters. Try not to get distracted.
Request your elected official to take a specific action. For example, “I ask that you vote for H.R. XXXX.”
Drive the focus of the meeting
During your conversation, if the legislator or staff member goes off-topic, bring the discussion back to your issue.
- Quickly introduce the people at your meeting. Mention where they live and why they are attending.
- Explain your issue and highlight the top three points you’d like to get across.
- Share your personal story, along with specific examples and data to emphasize the importance of the issue or legislation you are discussing. Show your elected official why it’s relevant to his or her constituency.
Be Honest & Open-minded
Be clear about your position on an issue, even if it differs from your elected official’s view. Politely ask about your legislator’s position on the issue you are discussing and why he or she holds that view. Your elected official might have a different position than yours, but by meeting with them, it’s possible to soften or even change their views. Be open-minded and polite when responding to counter arguments. Your credibility is the most important asset you have – always tell the truth. If you are asked a question and don’t have the answer, don’t make one up. Tell the person who asks the question that you will find the answer and get back to him or her.
Do not use harsh or aggressive language or make personal attacks. Do not argue. Don’t expect your elected official or his or her team to be an expert on your topic. Remember, it’s your job to educate your representative on why your issue matters and how they can help.
Don't commit to something you can't deliver
If you’ve offered to send more information or materials to an elected official and their staff, do so promptly.
Take notes during your meeting so you can follow up, ask for clarity and provide more details about a particular talking point.
Take photos with the elected official and their staff. Photos are great for social media and outreach after the meeting!
Say thank you
Make sure to thank your elected official for meeting with you and for their attention to the issue.
Do not be discouraged or offended
It’s okay if you meet with staff instead of the elected official, or if the meeting is postponed. Legislative schedules are incredibly busy, and sometimes it’s more productive to meet with a staff member who is an expert on your area of focus.
After the Meeting
Reach out to your elected official after the meeting by sending a thank-you email immediately and then a thank-you letter in the mail. If you promised to send additional information in your meeting, do so.
Showing your continued involvement after your meeting helps build a relationship with your elected official and his or her staff. Don’t contact your elected official or their staff only when you are upset about an issue or need to request something. Thank them when they’ve done something you support.
REMEMBER: The Arthritis Foundation Advocacy & Access team is always available to supporty you! Send your questions to here!
Advocate for What's Right
As an Arthritis Advocate, you’ll feel good about taking action to make health care more accessible. Help shift the policy and public perception that affects those living with arthritis.