Tips on Working with Legislative Staff
Remember, Your Issue Is One of Many
Legislative staff handle a bewildering array of issues. They simply cannot know about everything related to any of their issue areas. This is especially true for issues that are not directly related to their legislator’s committee or agenda. The purpose of any meeting with legislators or legislative staff should be to share with them your views on issues you care about. If they aren’t familiar with the issue, take that as a perfect opportunity to bring them up to speed!
Staff Contact Has Advantages over Legislator Contact
Lose the phrase “my meeting was just with staff” from your vocabulary. In many ways, working with legislative staff, rather than directly with the legislator, is to your advantage. Staff can take a little more time to delve in to a particular issue and gain a greater understanding of why your proposition is a great idea. With a little work on your part, staff can become advocates for your cause within their office. A great deal of what actually gets done is due to the initiative of the staff.
Expect and Appreciate Youth
Most legislative staffers are young. Don’t let that throw you. In most cases, staffers are bright and capable individuals who will respond appropriately to your requests and deliver your message to your legislator.
Most advocates do not follow up on meetings and then wonder why legislators don’t do what they were asked to do. This usually happens for any of the following reasons:
- The legislator simply forgot about the request.
- The legislator hasn’t had time to form an opinion on your issue.
- The legislator is waiting to see how much you really want what you’re asking for.
All three of these situations can be resolved through effective follow up. You can remind the legislators about your request, gently prod them to make a decision and demonstrate your commitment to the cause!
Tips for Effective Follow Up
Be diplomatic in reporting on your experience.
Unless you are treated incredibly rudely (and please let the Stroke Advocacy Network staff know if you are), it’s generally not a good idea to speak badly about the people you met with. It will inevitably get back to them, and they won’t want to meet with you in the future.
Ask staff which method of communication they prefer.
Most staff will really appreciate it (and think positively about you and your efforts) if you ask them whether it’s best to update them via phone, fax, email or face-to-face meeting.
Be patient and considerate.
Even if you had a fabulous meeting, you shouldn’t expect an immediate response to your comments or concerns. Pass the time by sending a thank-you card to the staff person who met with you.
Keep in touch.
To keep the momentum rolling after your meeting, follow up by sending small communications throughout the year and interacting with your legislators via their social media sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn). However, while it’s important to stay on their radar screen, it’s imperative not to be a pest. Keep your communications short and purposeful and you’ll be looked at as a resource.