When your organization meets with members of Congress or staff, what’s the most effective way to open the conversation?
To answer that question, we asked former high-level congressional staffers who spent years taking meetings with advocacy and lobbying groups to weigh in. What they said was this: communicating your relationship to the district—your impact—is a great way to make sure the audience is listening.
“Saying ‘we employ this many people in your district’ or ‘we have this many members’ means there’s a direct impact—that should be your opening paragraph,” said Jimmy Keady, former chief of staff to a House Republican and a veteran of more than 50 political campaigns nationwide.
“At the end of the day, congressional offices are paid by the taxpayers to represent their district in a meaningful way,” said Keady, who now owns JLK Political Strategies. “So when an interest group or grassroots organization says ‘we’re coming up to The Hill and we represent 10,000 of your constituents,’ or even if it’s ‘we represent 50 of your constituents,’ that’s a big deal.”
Get Creative to Effectively Communicate Your Value
On Capitol Hill, time is a primary commodity. For much of the year, lawmakers begin with a breakfast meeting and end with a reception, with a punishing schedule in between. Staffers work just as hard. Two-thirds work 50 hours a week and one in five works 60 hours a week, according to a report by New America. Among senior staff, that increases to one in three.
In that environment, your reception will depend on the ability to quickly communicate that your organization has an impact on the well-being of the district or state. “A congressional office will move mountains to make sure that constituents are heard,” Keady said.
Often, organizations communicate using the number of employees, and that can be effective. But it’s not the only way to talk about your value. Remember: the average senator has served for 11 years and the average representative for almost 9, according to the Congressional Research Service. They have heard a lot of these presentations. Getting creative and talking about impact in new ways can give you an edge:
- Companies. Companies will always have employment and facility numbers, but they can also talk about the products produced, the services rendered or the innovation taking place. Lenders can talk about the number and amount of loans provided. Healthcare companies can talk about the number of patients treated. All are ways to communicate expansive impact.
- Associations. Associations have members to brag on, and that’s often enough. Big organizations have members in every state and district, and often in large numbers. Their economic impact can be impressive, but so too can social impact. For example, nurses played a front-line role in America’s pandemic response, an issue that was felt directly in most districts as hospitals filled up.
- Nonprofits. While much will depend on the mission, nonprofits can talk about impact in many ways. Those that serve the homeless can discuss meals or beds provided. Those that fight for medical research can discuss the cost of disease and the number of patients afflicted. Charitable contributions, community grants, volunteers and volunteer hours can all be solid metrics.
As long as it is localized to the district and can be communicated quickly, there are many effective ways to show impact. Just don’t overdo it. If you are meeting to discuss issues and you have 15 minutes, avoid a full dissertation on your organization. Explain how you represent constituents and help the community, then move on.
Streamline Communication with Impact Reports
While there are many ways to communicate value, the nuts and bolts of doing so are not always easy. Generating all of those numbers and localizing them to 50 states and 435 congressional districts can be a challenge. If you consider state legislative districts, which number in the thousands, many teams will quickly be overmatched.
But there is a tool that can help. Quorum’s Intelligence Suite generates self-service Impact Reports that allow you to communicate your economic, social and political footprint in state and federal legislative districts at will.
The reports are designed to be a quick and effective briefing for team members who are meeting with lawmakers and staff. They contain bio information on the lawmaker, committee assignments, staff information and key metrics about your organization’s impact in the district. Zip-to-district matching algorithms map your data to districts and keep that data updated, so you have a ready-to-go report that is completely current and viewable on any device.
As redistricting takes place, the system simply adjusts. It also does so when seats change hands, as they will after this year’s election and a new Congress is sworn in next year. Because reports are available in every state and federal district, you can systematically prepare your teams for meetings, a major advantage during fly-ins that hold scores of legislator meetings all at once. The result is an always-on engagement system that transforms stakeholders into well-briefed advocates.
However you communicate your value, our experts say it’s the best way to grab the attention of those in Congress. You may call them employees, members, customers or advocates. But in Congress, they are constituents—voters—and they matter a great deal. When in doubt, lead with your impact.