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Hill Day: Plan Your Congressional Visits
There is no substitute for the opportunity to communicate face to face with your legislators. They get to hear your story, unfiltered and direct, and gain a sense of your dedication to issues important to you. Plan properly to make the most of your Hill visits on September 17, 2013.
Make Your Appointments for Hill Visits on September 17, 2013
The National Council hopes you will make four visits on Tuesday, September 17, 2013: one to each of your Senators and one to your district’s Representative in the House and, when applicable, one to your governor’s Washington, D.C., office. The National Council also might ask you to participate in a targeted visit to a member of Congress who sits on a committee of strategic importance to our legislative goals. For information on what to expect from your Hill visits, tips on how to prepare and make the most of your visits, please refer to pages 10-13 of the National Council’s Public Policy Guide.
Here's what you need to do to set up appointments:
- Contact the offices of your Senators, Representatives, and Governors to arrange your meetings for Tuesday, September 17, 2013. Click here to find the contact information for your elected officials.
- When calling: identify yourself, including the name of the organization you represent and where you are located. In the case of congressional offices, ask to speak with the health legislative assistant. In addition, if you have a relationship with the elected official and believe you can obtain an audience with him or her personally, don’t hesitate to ask.
- Some offices might ask that you put your meeting request in writing. A sample meeting request letter is available on the National Council’s website.
- During the conversation, establish a date and meeting time. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss “federal health care policy affecting people with mental illness and addictions and the community providers who serve them.”
- BE FLEXIBLE. Congressional and gubernatorial staff schedules are busy, so take whatever time is offered – morning or afternoon – so long as the time does not conflict with your other appointments or the evening reception. An ideal window of time to shoot for is 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.
- Make sure to leave plenty of time between visits made with Senate offices and those made in House offices. If you are able to, try to schedule your Senate meetings together and House meetings together since House and Senate office buildings are located on opposite sides of the Capitol building. It will take about 20 minutes to walk from the Senate side to the House side of Capitol Hill. In addition, be aware that the Washington, D.C., offices of governors are located at 444 North Capitol Street, NW, about a 20-minute walk from the Capitol building.
- When you have scheduled your visits, please share them with the National Council by returning to the online registration at:
This will allow the National Council staff to schedule their coverage of the lobbying visits.
Please contact Kirsten Reed if you have any questions about scheduling your appointments. She can be contacted at (202) 684-7457ext. 234 or KirstenR@thenationalcouncil.org
Tips for Successful Meetings with Your Elected Officials
Remember that most Hill visits are brief (15-20 minutes) and often with staffers, who are responsible for the issue.
Review and rehearse the key points you want to make. If possible, learn member’s committee assignments (refer to your Congressional Directory).
Be on Time
But don’t be surprised if they’re not. Congressional schedules are hectic. You need to be flexible and patient. Leave buffer time for a successful or delayed meeting. It takes about 20 minutes to cross from the House side to the Senate side. If you are unexpectedly running late, call the office as a courtesy.
Be Conscientious of Numbers
Meeting space is very limited and causes anxiety for offices trying to facilitate multiple meetings. Standing in the hall for a meeting is not uncommon. Priority should be given to constituents, and let them speak first – only include non-constituents if they serve a particular role that is relevant to the specific member.
Introduce yourself, noting where you live and/or go to school (i.e., confirming that you are a constituent) and establishing a connection to the issue you’d like to discuss. During your conversation, relate situations to the member’s home state or district.
Hill visits are very brief (usually 15-20 minutes). Plan on making no more than 3 key points, using personal and local examples to emphasize the need for the Senator/Representative’s support.
The Fact Sheets the National Council provides will help you explain:
- What’s the issue (purpose of visit)?
- What’s the impact/importance (local/state/nation)?
- What you’d like the Senator/Representative to do?
Don’t be afraid to ask how the Senator/Representative stands on the issue; and be tolerant of differing views, keeping dialogue open. Ask for (don’t demand) reaction or feedback on your position. Show openness to the knowledge of counterarguments and respond to them gently without being argumentative. Do spend time with Members whose position is against yours. You can lessen the intensity of the opposition and perhaps change it.
Try to answer any questions asked, but if you can’t, let them know you’ll get back to them with the information and be sure to follow-up.
Thank your elected official or staffer for his/her time.
Always send a follow-up “thank you” letter, reiterating the points made during the meeting. If you promised to provide more information – provide it. Don’t drop the ball – this is your opportunity to prove that you are a resource.
Please use the feedback mechanism that the National Council provides to let us know your elected officials' positions on the issues(s) you discussed and if there is any follow up that we need to do with that office.
Manage Questions and Reactions
During your Hill visits, Members will have a variety of reactions to what you are saying. The following provides some guidelines as to how you should follow-up on their responses to ensure you get the most out of your Hill visit.
If your elected official says…
"This sounds great! I’ll sign on to everything!"
Thank them and let them know that you’ll be in touch to follow up. If possible, find out who their mental health/addictions, and/or health legislative assistant (LA) is for both their DC and local offices. Sometimes, members agree to take specific actions, but will forget if not prompted. Also, make sure to let the National Council know about any commitments you may have received.
"I’m interested. Are there letters being circulated about this bill? What can I do?"
Thank them and refer to the immediate actions/requests that are listed on the fact sheets. Let them know that you will keep them posted on any future actions, such as signing on to a circulating letter. If possible, find out the name of the local staff person as well as the DC staff person to follow-up. Make sure you let the National Council know about any commitments you may have received.
"Sounds Interesting. I’d like to learn more."
Members of Congress, especially those recently elected, are often unwilling to make commitments the first couple times they are asked. This is in part because they simply cannot agree to everything that is asked of them and are eager to learn more about an issue before making a decision. If you get this reaction, thank them and let them know you’re happy to serve as a resource. Find out the name of the appropriate staff people and follow up with them. Let the National Council know of their interest.
"I’ve always opposed federal funding for mental health and addictions issues."
Be polite, but persistent. Let them know that while you disagree with them, you hope that the member or staff might be willing to take some time to visit your agency in the district and learn more about the valuable services your agency provides to the community – services that are an entirely appropriate and worthwhile investment of federal funds. If possible, find out the name of the local staff person as well as the DC staff person to follow up.