Meeting Your Legislators

Whether it’s to discuss local or national recreation and park issues, nothing impresses members of Congress more than constituents who take the time to visit in person. Most lobbying is simply educating your legislators or their staff on the impact that national policy will have on their constituents. There is no "right" way to lobby. However, there are some guidelines you should follow to help accomplish both short and long-term goals.

Short-term goals include, for example, persuading your legislator to vote on the park and recreation side of an issue, or cosponsoring a particular bill. Your long-term goal, whether you are a citizen activist or recreation professional, should be to develop and cultivate a continuing relationship with your elected officials and their staff. Let them know you are a resource for information on park and recreation issues.

Simply walking through the door raises the awareness of the importance of public recreation and parks program and services. This political message is far more effective than scores of Washington lobbyists can hope to be.

Lastly, you don't have to travel to Washington to meet with your congressional representatives. Most weekends and holidays members of Congress return home, and most have several district or state offices. These are wonderful opportunities for an individual or group to meet with your elected officials

The following are important suggestions to help make your meeting effective:

Plan Your Visit Carefully. Small groups are generally best. Decide in advance who will say what, and be sure to cover your key points early on. You probably will not have a lot of time with your legislator, so be clear about what you want to achieve. Determine in advance if your representative has particular influence in certain issues, and focus on those with that legislator. Remember to begin and end by focusing on the specific action you'd like you legislator to take. 

Make an Appointment. When attempting to meet with a legislator, contact the Appointments Secretary/scheduler. Explain your purpose and whom you represent. It is easier for the staff to arrange a meeting if they know what you wish to discuss and your relationship to the area or interests represented by the member. Polite but firm persistence is essential. Legislators' offices can be reached through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. 

Be Prompt, Patient and Polite. When it's time to meet with a member of Congress be punctual, patient and polite. It is not uncommon for a legislator to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted, due to their crowded schedule. If interruptions do occur, be flexible. When the opportunity presents itself continue your meeting with a member's staff. Never threaten your legislator or insult other members of Congress. Don't overstay your welcome. If the legislator is enjoying the meeting and lets if run over, fine. But be prepared to complete your agenda in the time allotted. 

Be Prepared. Whenever possible, bring to the meeting information and materials supporting your position. If possible, prepare a brief fact sheet to leave with your legislator. List the names, addresses and phone numbers of everybody in your group. Summarize the agenda items, highlighting the specific actions requested. Legislators are required to take positions on many different issues. In some instances, they may lack important details about the pros and cons of a particular matter. It is therefore helpful to receive information and examples that demonstrate clearly the impact or benefits associated with a particular issue or piece of legislation. 

Be Political. Legislators want to represent the best interests of their district or state. Wherever possible, demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and the interests of the member's constituency. If possible describe for the legislator how you or your group can be of assistance. Where it is appropriate, remember to ask for a commitment. 

Be Responsive. Be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information. While it is important to know the substance of an issue, you are not expected to know all the technical details. It's always acceptable to say, "I don't know, but I'll find out and get back to you." Follow up with a thank you letter that outlines the different points covered during the meeting or answers any remaining questions, and send along any additional information or material requested. Remember to use these meeting as opportunities to build a relationship with your elected official and their staff. Don't be discouraged if you don't see eye to eye on every issue; there is always another piece of legislation in the future on which they may be helpful. 

Tell NRPA What You Have Learned. You can your national association by telling us what you learned in your meeting. Remember that these kinds of visits provide an opportunity to gather information as well as voice your point of view. So let us know how the meeting went and what you learned.