Visiting the local office
Meetings at a state or district office of your Member of Congress can be a particularly effective way to convey your message. Both the Member and his or her staff in Washington pay close attention to information passed to them from their local offices. Most Members of Congress have several local offices across their state or district - usually one larger office and several smaller offices.
Once you (and your colleagues) have sent your handcrafted letter(s) to the Washington office (and sent a copy to the local office(s) as well), a meeting at the local office will be an effective follow-up. While a meeting with the Member him or herself is certainly desirable, you will more realistically be able to meet with a staffer (this is not an undesirable outcome in any way—the Member relies greatly on his or her staffers, so informing them is often the best way to get your information heard).
Tips on setting up a meeting at the local office
How should I go about setting up the meeting?
First, select a date that works best for you and/or the group you intend to take to the meeting (be as flexible as possible on dates/times to accommodate the office schedule).
Second, call the state or district office and ask for the staff member who works on international/foreign affairs issues. If there is no staffer assigned to international issues, ask to speak with the office director.
*The address and phone number of the state or district office can most easily be found on the Member’s website. Use the links below to find your Members of Congress' websites:
--- House: www.house.gov/representatives/
--- Senate: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
Then, clearly explain who you are and the purpose of the meeting you are requesting: i.e., you wish to follow up on your recent letter and to meet with the Member or a staffer to discuss international exchange programs in the district/state and their impact on constituents.
Who should attend the local office visit?
Your group might consist of anywhere from one to five participants. We recommend taking no more than five on your visit (larger groups can become unwieldy).
You may find that logistics prevent you from gathering a group—this is not a problem. A meeting at a Member's local office that includes only you can still be effective, as it will allow you the chance to make your points in a one-on-one, conversational setting.
An ideal group will include those leaders in your community who sent, or signed on to, a handcrafted letter. If the actual writer/signer cannot attend, he or she may wish to send a deputy or other staff member as a representative.
What should I bring to the meeting?
We recommend preparing a packet of “leave-behinds” for your meeting—a folder of information about your organization and programs, and any detailed information you can provide on the number of participants, the economic impact, etc. Resist the temptation to include too much, and keep your packets digestible—if the Member or staffer asks for information you didn’t bring with you, you can always send it later. In fact, this is an excellent excuse to follow up.
Business cards for each member of your group are also a must. (Be sure to ask the staff member you meet with for his or her card too, so you can follow up!)
What should be discussed in the meeting?
As you did in your handcrafted letter, you should be prepared to discuss the impact of international exchange programs in your district/state, and the value constituents in the area place on them.
Don’t feel the need to touch on every program, fact, or statistic; you'll be most effective talking about what you know best. Think in advance about the two or three most salient points you’d like to emphasize. Encourage others in your group to do the same. If time permits before your meeting, you may wish to organize a conference call or email exchange with your group to sketch out your strategy. Plan to keep your presentation short and digestible—Congressional staffers are constantly on information overload, so they appreciate brevity.
It is also helpful to engage the staffer personally—to ask the staffer about his or her own international exchange or study abroad experience.
One final tip: be truthful. If you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to, simply reply that you’d be happy to find the answer and get back to them. Not only does this provide you with an opportunity for follow up, but it keeps your integrity intact.