The U.S. Capitol and the House and Senate Office Buildings have been closed to the public since March of 2020, and in that time, governmental affairs professionals have utilized innovative ways to communicate with Members of Congress and their staff. As we move to the next phase of the pandemic, some on Capitol Hill will continue a hybrid work schedule while others will return to the office full time, and we need to ask ourselves, do you know the best way to communicate with them?
To help answer this question, the ABA Governmental Affairs Office staff has compiled a list of suggestions for how to best communicate with Congressional staff during these uncertain times.
In-district meetings are essential
Currently, most House and Senate office buildings remain tightly controlled, with only one entrance to each building open and one security line. Once you enter the building, a staffer must escort you to a Member of Congress’s office and escort you back out of the building after the meeting. Because of this complicated process on the Hill, we recommend that you utilize in-district meetings. District staff are equally as knowledgeable as Hill staff, if not more so on local issues. DC staff also regularly visit and communicate with the district offices now that they have more flexibility on where they work.
When scheduling meetings, it is also important to remember the tried-and-true advice: schedule the meeting 3-4 weeks in advance. In addition, give staffers multiple options for how you can meet them, including by Zoom, a phone call, or in person. Once you schedule the meeting, send relevant materials for review prior to the meeting, complete with an abstract, in case they do not get a chance to read the whole document ahead of time.
Pro Tip: Try including links to reports in your material rather than attachments, which tend to get stuck in congressional firewalls.
Show metrics and levels of constituent engagement for more impact
Now that so many events are online, Members of Congress are often turning their attention to social media metrics and online event statistics to see what constituents find important. Communicating the results of an effort can be a great way to highlight constituent involvement and bolster other efforts surrounding the same topic.
Pro Tip: Traditional wisdom says to utilize social media by posting a photo of your advocates with a Member following a meeting. That is still important, but you can also include information from your newsletter and make sure to let the Member’s office know how many people saw that newsletter, post, or attended that virtual event. Put another way, in a meeting following a constituent meeting, you can say something like, “the post from our last meeting was one of our highest performing with over 50 likes and retweets.”
Make messages personal
If you cannot schedule a meeting with a Member of Congress or their staff, the next best choice is to send an email message on an issue. Through the ABA’s Congressional Messaging Portal, you can access preformatted letters and send messages directly to offices, bypassing congressional firewalls. However, in an age where staff are inundated with digital communications, it is also imperative to add a personal message to those emails. By doing so, the congressional office is more likely to send a personalized response, rather than a canned one. Better yet, ask a question in the email, that way the office will respond directly to that question.
Pro Tip: Including personal messages is a great way to separate yourself from the noise, but long-term success involves more than one email. Set a reminder to follow up from your email one week after your original send date to circle back on any open questions, include any additional information, or to offer your expertise to the office.
Things on the Hill are constantly changing, but armed with these tips, you’ll be on the fast track to making an impact!
For more grassroots resources and best practices, visit the Grassroots Action Center at ambar.org/grassroots.