Congress is currently on recess and won’t return to Capitol Hill until early September. But that doesn’t mean your policymaker outreach should take a recess as well!
During the month of August, policymakers head home to enjoy some down time and to reconnect with constituents in their state or district. Many policymakers have limited amount of time during the legislative session to meet with folks at home. Summer recess is actually a great opportunity for your organization to meet with your member of Congress at their district office or invite them to see first-hand the progress you’re making in their own back yard. Just last week, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker wrapped up a seven-day, 21 county road trip during which he hosted a roundtable with local officials to discuss juvenile justice reform.
The first thing to consider before you reach out to your member of Congress is what you hope to achieve. Make sure you know in advance how this interaction will help your organization make progress toward its strategic objective.
Next, you want to look at the political landscape. As you may have noticed, things are a bit … contentious at the moment. That should not prevent you from reaching out to a member of Congress, but it certainly should shape your ask. We are in the midst of an election year, and Congress will likely return to gridlock and more partisan bickering. As much as you can, focus on nonpolitical asks that both advance your agenda and give the member an easy ‘win.’ While it’s not likely that your member will be able to push legislation on your behalf, now is a great opportunity to think long term about building a champion for your cause.
Think about your relationship as if you were walking up a ladder. Assess your interaction and familiarity with the member and structure your ask as a small step in building your relationship upward, moving them from an observer to a champion. Depending on what stage of the ladder your member is at, you may want to:
- Make them an observer. If the member of Congress is not familiar with your organization, reach out to their district scheduler and set up a time to meet with either the member or a relevant staff person. Use this as an opportunity to educate them about the work you’re doing and why they should care.
- Build up their support. If you’ve interacted with the member or their staff a few times, use summer recess to invite them for a site visit. August is the best time because the member has more flexibility in their schedule to take a few hours and see what’s going on locally without making a special trip.
- Ask for a greater level of public support. At this stage, your member of Congress is familiar with your work and is willing to associate their name with your organization. Think about the various facets of your work and who holds to keys to making your objectives a reality. Perhaps your Representative or Senator could connect you with local policymakers or business leaders in the areas that you’ve been trying to partner.
- Reinforce your champion. Continuing up the ladder allows you to build the relationship to the point where you can call on your member to speak on your behalf, and you have cultivated them into a champion for your organization. This is your long-term goal.
If you already have a member of Congress who is out on the front lines for your cause, summer recess is a great chance to say thank you, and reinforce why their support is so important. You could organize a block party or cocktail reception in their honor that demonstrates the achievements you’ve made with his or her support. Instead of focusing on how he or she can help in the future, just say “thank you” and have them kiss some babies and get a photo op. Remember the relationship is a two-way street, so you want to provide some benefit for the policymaker, particularly if they are campaigning.
So, don’t write off August as a month-long vacation from advocacy! Instead, use this time as a strategic opportunity to build relationships and set yourself up for future success.
Tags: #SummerRecess #Congress