Before Rep. Rodney Davis was elected to represent Illinois’ 13th district, he held another position in Congress—as a staffer. Davis, who was a district staffer for Rep. John Shimkus for 16 years before being elected himself, credits his experiences as a staffer for his ability to hit the ground running as a member.
As a staffer and a member, Davis has met with numerous advocacy groups and seen what makes the most effective meeting with a congressional office.
Before going into a meeting, consider these three steps:
Decide: DC or the District?
According to Davis, there isn’t a significant difference in the value of a meeting depending on location. However, if your issue relates to on-the-ground projects or requests for local infrastructure solutions, Davis recommends the district for meetings so that his team can see the project on the ground.
“If you want to talk about projects, if you want to talk about different infrastructure investments, or water infrastructure, it’s probably best to meet in the district so we can get a bird’s eye view of the area you’re talking about,” Davis said. “But I encourage anyone to come to the district or to DC, wherever you can get a chance to meet with your member of Congress.”
Plan Your Time
The first key to using time wisely from Davis’ perspective is to be prepared before arriving at the office. This involves making sure that the points you would like to discuss are precise.
“Be ready and be precise, be able to get your point across in about the first five minutes of what you need,” Davis said. “Then use the last ten minutes or so to actually go back and forth and inform the member or the staffer on the details of your request.”
Davis also emphasized the impact of sharing a personal story.
“I met with one of the young kids in Jerseyville, a set of twins, one of them was facing brain cancer and I got a chance to go visit him at a hospital and develop a relationship,” Davis said. “Those things help. It helps us to understand what their priorities are, and when you have an eight year old brain cancer patient point at his head and say, congressman 4% investment in pediatric cancer research is not enough, it has a tremendous impact.”
Prepare a Leave-Behind
After you’re meeting, it can be helpful to the member and staffers for your organization to prepare a leave-behind of key points from your meeting. Davis warned against leaving thick folders with dense reading, as the office likely won’t have time to review packets of information. Like your conversation with the legislator, be precise in the key points that you don’t want the office to forget.“I joke around for some members [the key to a good leave-behind is] to put big pictures on it. But, in all seriousness, just be concise,” Davis said. “A lot of folks want to come in and talk about just pieces of legislation but if there are issues or projects in your district, give a rundown of what they are. If you’re coming in here with a folder full of stuff, the likelihood of someone actually going through that folder later is pretty unlikely. Have it match what you’re talking about in the meeting.”The leave-behind is an opportunity to highlight ways your organization is advocating for the issue and for sharing district-specific statistics. This could include the economic impact your organization has on a specific district or the number of constituents you have engaged on the issue.
Rep. Davis and his staff have several meetings a day with constituents and organizations looking to discuss the issues they care about, so it’s important to make your meeting stand out. By taking the time to prepare in advance whether its being strategic about the location of the meeting, planning how you will spend your time in the meeting, or preparing an effective leave-behind, you can help your organization remain top-of-mind when the member has the opportunity to take up your issue.