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.
Does the National Council schedule Capitol Hill meetings for me?
No. Each state should have a State Captain who will be your point of contact and who will coordinate the Hill visits for you and your fellow attendees from your state.
- In some states, the State Captain will set up all Hill visits and notify attendees so they can RSVP.
- In other states, attendees schedule their own meetings and notify the State Captain so that he or she can help other attendees know which meetings to attend.
How do I go about setting up my meetings?
First, contact your State Captain to let them know you will be attending and find out whether they are coordinating your state delegation’s Hill visits. If your State Captain asks attendees to set up their own visits, use this page as a guide to get started.
If your state does not have a State Captain, use the following resources to book your meetings today!
- A template letter to use to begin scheduling Capitol Hill meetings with legislators. This letter provides the date and suggested times for the meeting, as well as describes the content we will look to cover during event. Feel free to edit the letter as needed.
- The 2019 Congressional Health Staff Directory: Find your legislator’s health care staff member and reach out to request a meeting.
- Once you’ve confirmed a meeting time, replay all to this email chain and let the folk in our group know! We also ask that you enter confirmed meetings into your online registration profile.
MAKE YOUR APPOINTMENTS FOR HILL VISITS
The National Council encourages you to schedule at least three visits on Wednesday, September 18, 2019: one with each of your Senators and one with your district’s Representative in the House. You may also want to schedule an appointment with the Washington, D.C. branch of your Governor’s office. In addition, the National Council may 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.
Here’s what you need to do to set up appointments for Hill Day:
- The best time to call for a meeting is 4-6 weeks in advance.
- Call the offices of your elected officials to arrange your meetings for Wednesday, April 25.
- When calling, identify yourself, including the name of the organization you represent and where you are located, and ask to speak with the health legislative assistant.
- Specify that the purpose of your meeting is to discuss “federal health care policy affecting people with mental illnesses and addictions and the community providers who serve them.” Let them know you are participating in the National Council Hill Day.
- If you have a relationship with the member of Congress and believe you can obtain an audience with him or her personally, don’t hesitate to ask.
- During the conversation, establish a date and meeting time.
- Be flexible — Congressional 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. An ideal window of time to schedule is between 10:00 am – 4:00 pm ET.
- When you have confirmed your Hill appointments, please record them with your Hill Day registration. This is important so National Council staff can help with critical preparation and follow-up.
Need help with your appointments? Email Michael Petruzzelli at MichaelP@thenationalcouncil.org or call him at 202.684.7457 ext. 267.
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 National Council will provide fact sheets on site at Hill Day and will make electronic versions available in advance. The fact sheets 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 you discussed and if there is any follow-up 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 D.C. 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 D.C. staff person to follow up.