Personal meetings can be a very effective way to communicate your views, but successful meetings require advance planning. Legislators are usually busy when they are in Washington so you can’t always meet with them personally. However, you can almost always get a meeting with a staff member who handles your issues. If you really want to meet with your Senators or Representative, try arranging something when they are in the district.
Requesting the Meeting
Meetings typically last only 15–20 minutes so you will need to focus on no more than one or two issues. You will find the telephone numbers for congressional offices on the House and Senate websites. When you call to request the meeting, be prepared to name the issues you’d like to discuss. It’s also a good idea to say that you would be happy to meet either with the legislator or with a staff member. The staff is usually very helpful, though they may ask you to submit your request by email or web form. (If you need to submit a written request, FASEB has developed a template that you can customize with the name of the legislator and the topics you want to discuss.) Even if the Senator or Representative can’t sit in on the meeting, they may drop by to say hello. In any case, the staff will tell them what you said.
Preparing for the Meeting
Before you go, make sure you know what your message is: Are you simply asking them to support biomedical research funding? Or do you want them to take a certain position on a bill or an issue? If you want them to support research funding, use FASEB’s state and district fact sheets to show how research funding benefits your state. If you are asking them to vote a certain way on a piece of legislation or an issue, first find out what their position is (if they have one), and then be prepared to explain yours. If they have sponsored a bill you oppose, keep in mind that while many bills are introduced each year, few of them pass. Sometimes legislators agree to co-sponsor a bill because their constituents or another legislator asked them to do so. They might take a position on an issue based upon limited information or at the behest of colleagues or constituents. Legislators are reluctant to reverse a position they have already taken, but if you give them new information and your perspective, they may be willing to modify the language of the bill or soften their position on an issue.
At the Meeting
Arrive on time for your appointment, but be patient. Capitol Hill is a busy place so you may have to wait for a while. You might also end up meeting with a different staff person than you expected.
Before you go, practice what you want to say so you can keep the meeting on track. Always begin by thanking the person for their time and explaining why you came. Then introduce yourself briefly: In just a few sentences, tell them where you work, the nature of your work, and, if you receive federal funding, the name of the agency that provides it. Few people on Capitol Hill have a scientific background so adjust what you say accordingly. (For pointers on how to do this, see Building Support for Science.)
After explaining your position on the issues you came to raise, ask the other person if they have questions or comments. If they disagree with your position, politely ask them to explain how they see the issue. You can respond to these concerns on the spot, or you can say that you will follow up with them after you have studied the issue further. The cardinal rule is that even if you disagree, never be disagreeable. At the conclusion of the meeting—no matter how it went—thank them for their time and for listening to your concerns.
After the Meeting
After your meeting, send a thank you note by email. In addition to thanking the person for their time, this gives you the opportunity to reinforce your message by reiterating your position and offering to answer future questions about biomedical research issues. FASEB has developed a helpful thank you note template you can use as a starting point. Sending a thank you note is also an opportunity to establish email contact, which can serve as a starting point to develop ongoing communication with the staff person.