As most decisions about sexuality education are made at the local school board level, you will spend much of your time as an advocate for comprehensive sexuality education working with school board members. However, federal and state policymakers are increasingly working on sexuality education issues. Some advocates now find themselves dealing with legislators about sexuality education issues.
The most common method of communicating with your legislators is sending a letter or an email which remains a very important way to get your message across. (See “Sample Letter to a Policymaker” for more information). A few advocates, however, may find themselves in the position of meeting with legislators or their staff. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time.
When conducting an office visit to your legislator, she or he will likely have very limited time to meet with you. Prepare a clear and concise message beforehand. Be able to back up your position with facts and personal anecdotes. Research the legislator’s stands on the issues and know your allies and opponents. If you are visiting your legislator’s office with a group of others decide each person’s role ahead of time. It is helpful to identify a group leader who will kick off the visit and state the goals of the meeting.
Arrive at the office at least 10 minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin. Although meeting directly with your legislator is ideal, more often than not a staff person will stand in for him or her. Do not feel slighted if this occurs—this is common and meeting with legislative staff is very important. These individuals have your legislator’s ear, and she or he relies on them as a key resource for decision-making.
Bring a Constituent
If for some reason you need to meet with an elected official who does not represent your district, find a constituent to bring along. If it is feasible, allow this person to lead the meeting. Policymakers are always more interested in what a voter in his or her district has to say. It is also helpful if this person can provide a story or anecdote explaining why the elected official should support a certain policy. Always try to demonstrate the connection between your request and the interests of the legislator’s constituency.
Start by identifying yourself. It is important for the legislator or staff member to know exactly whom you represent. A good way to begin the meeting is to express appreciation for past actions in favor of your issue. Stay focused and try to keep the conversation centered on your issue at all times. Never argue with the legislator, the legislative staff, or members of your advocacy group.
Know what your “ask” is before the meeting—what would you like the legislator to do? You may want to bring a menu of ways your legislator can support your cause, depending on where he or she stands on the issue. Try to secure tangible commitments such as sponsoring a relevant piece of legislation or moving a bill forward.
If you do not know the answer to a question, indicate that you do not have the information but that you will get it as soon as possible. Be sure to follow-up with answers to any questions or any information that was requested. Follow-up is as important as the meeting itself.
Be a Resource
Thank the legislator or staff person for his or her time. Repeat your “ask.” Leave them with a fact sheet or other literature that concisely summarizes your main points. Include your contact information and establish yourself as a future resource. Offer your business card (if you have one) and request a business card of any staff member with whom you have met.
Send a Thank-You Note
After your meeting, send a brief thank-you note to the legislator and staff members you met. This is an opportunity to reiterate your key points and include any follow-up information and/or materials. It is perfectly acceptable to forward this note via email or fax.