Top 10 Things To Consider for a Congressional Site Visit
- Start on Paper; Follow-up via Phone: Members of Congress and their staffs pay attention to letters from constituents. Even if you have solid relationships with Congressional staff, it never hurts to first describe your event idea on paper and then follow up with staff via phone. A letter will help ensure the idea or event request does not fall through the cracks. Of course, make sure you copy your staff contacts on any emails or letters that you address to the Member.
- Flexibility: Congressional schedules are often unpredictable. So the more flexible you are in scheduling the event the greater chance you will have in securing a Member’s participation. For example, Congress may vote on a bill’s final passage Thursday evening with the next scheduled vote for the following Tuesday. This gives Members an opportunity (with very little notice) to plan events and meet with constituents over the weekend and on Monday before flying back to Washington for the Tuesday votes. Can you pull your event together with only a three day notice? Your ability to do so could increase your chances of getting the Member’s participation.
- G.I. Fridays (and Mondays and Recess Days): While Congressional schedules are unpredictable, House and Senate leadership try to schedule the first votes of a work week on Monday evenings or Tuesday mornings and the last votes of a work week on Thursday evenings or early Friday mornings. This allows Members to host Monday morning and Friday afternoon events in their states/districts before returning to Washington. Also, Congress typically announces its work and recess schedule at the beginning of each year. When possible, consider events on Mondays, Fridays, or on recess days to increase the likelihood of participation of your local Member of Congress.
- Get To Know The State/District Scheduler: Congressional offices have a range of staff positions that are all important in assisting each Member of Congress. Congressional offices employ a scheduler to manage the Member’s in-state/district and Washington schedules. Some offices utilize a scheduling team, one to handle in-state/district events and appointment requests and another to handle Washington requests. In addition to your outreach with state/district staff, please consider introducing yourself and your affiliate to the scheduler.
- Show Don’t Tell: Easterseals Medicaid services are visual and dynamic and so create an event or meeting where you can showcase these strengths. If you are updating a Member of Congress on a program, consider hosting that meeting in a service location (i.e. child care center or physical therapy setting) instead of a conference room. Let them see the program and service in action and the opportunity to meet with staff and participants instead of just hearing about them.
- Made For the Media: When developing event ideas, please consider how you could make the event timely or noteworthy to help attract the media. Highlight major program milestones (i.e.: 100th placement), anniversaries, or current events (i.e.: highlight services for school-aged children with disabilities at the start of the school year) to add more significance to your event. Adding a news hook to your event planning could help entice the participation of your Member of Congress and expand the impact in your community. Keep in mind that television journalists must tell their stories through visuals, so make sure your event is built around action and locations that are visual and photograph well.
- Impression First; Message Second: Members of Congress receive more meeting and event requests than they possibly have time to attend. They must choose the ones that best fit their schedules or interests. Focusing your in-state/district meetings and events on positive successes and milestones, instead of the challenges, could help make the event more attractive to the Member of Congress. The goal is to gain the Member’s interest and support for the program by first highlighting Medicaid’s success, importance, and impact in the community. After discussing Medicaid’s powerful impact, you can then pivot to discuss how these essential services are at-risk due to possible cuts and other threats.
- Involve the Member: Consider ways to actively involve the Member of Congress in your events or meetings. At a minimum, make room in your event schedule for the Member to give remarks. If you plan to recognize a partner, staff, or participants at the event with an award or other recognition, please consider involving the Member by asking them to hand out the award. Be sure to coordinate ahead of time with the Member’s staff so there are no surprises!
- 60 Minutes Or Less: Members of Congress like to schedule multiple events when they are home in their districts and states. Consider organizing events that can be completed in under an hour. If that is not possible, note in your invitation letter that the Member of Congress can attend at any time during the event schedule to give remarks or participate and that they can leave after their remarks. Flexibility in time and schedule is critical.
- Start with the Staff: Members of Congress look to their staffs for ideas of places to visit and events to host. Invite state/district and Washington staff to tour your location and to meet with staff and participants. Be sure to show staff the various locations, settings and rooms at your affiliates. Congressional offices utilize different locations and backdrops for press conferences or other meetings. So suggest to the staffer that your locations can be used as a backdrop for a future event with the Member. Also, make sure you include staff (in addition to the Members) on your regular event and newsletter mailing lists.
For More Information Contact:
Assistant Vice President, Government Relations
Easterseals Office of Public Affairs