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It is a great idea to invite your Congressperson or Senator to your facility to see all of the good work you’re doing on behalf of your clients. However, there are a few things you should know before contacting one of your federal representatives.
First, plan as far ahead as you possibly can. Typically, Congressmen and Senators get back to their home districts as much as they can, sometimes spending as much as a week per month at home. However, their schedules are always very full, and it takes a good deal of advanced planning to get on their schedules. It is a good idea to have several politicians in mind, but invite only one at a time, and wait for your first choice to decline before asking your second choice.
The best way to start planning a visit is to contact the politician’s local office. You will have a much better chance of getting someone on the phone who will be able to help you coordinate a visit than if you called his or her office in Washington.
Introduce yourself, and in a sentence or two, describe your organization and the event (if applicable) that the politician is being invited to. Without over-selling the visit, briefly explain the benefits for the politician. For example, if you invite your Congressperson to a reception at the local senior center, you could explain that the event will give the Congressperson an opportunity to meet with older adults who are his or her constituents. Politicians are always keen to meet with constituents.
Once a politician has committed to a visit, it is important to coordinate the details with his or her local staff. Politicians don’t like surprises, so coordinate a detailed plan that includes the timing of the visit, an agenda, the expectations for the politician (e.g., will he or she be expected to give a speech), and whether there will be media coverage. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to present the politician with a plaque or a similar commemorative, but be sure to inform the local staff.
If there will be a question and answer session with the politician, it is a good idea to “plant” a few questions with your staff to get the ball rolling. Again, politicians do not like to be caught off-guard, so share these questions with him or her ahead of time.
Assign a staff member to take photographs of the visit, and be sure to issue a press release following the event as long as you coordinate this effort with the politician’s staff. Also, consider sending photographs of the visit to ATRA so that they can be shared with members. Finally, follow-up with the politician and his or her staff with a thank you note (and perhaps a few photographs) within a week of the visit.