Before the Meeting

The key to a successful Congressional meeting is thorough preparation and strong understanding of the facts. Therefore, you should start preparing for your meeting with your member of Congress several weeks before the meeting is set to take place. Consider coordinating with members of your utility’s board of directors to attend the meeting and make sure to specify their presence when you schedule the meeting. By including members of the board, you are more likely to get meetings with your Member of Congress.

In preparing for the meeting, consider whether the goal is to “make an ask” on a specific action, such as co-sponsoring a piece of legislation or supporting a certain funding level, to establish or maintain a relationship, or serve as a resource on an issue topic. If the goal is to encourage the member to take a specific action, come prepared to request a specific action and justify that ask with relevant information as to how it will impact the Members’ constituents at your utility and the clean water sector. Other times, you may seek a meeting to support a working relationship between your utility and the Member’s office without having an immediate “ask”. In this case your goal is to position yourself as a known and trusted resource and provide value by informing the member of important clean water issues in the district.

It is important to consider that Members of Congress have a very busy schedule and you will likely have a limited time to present your points, and want to retain time for questions and discussions. Therefore organize your talking points around no more than three key developments, issues, or “asks.” In your written materials and talking points, it is very important to translate technical information into understandable, lay-person friendly language. Do not assume that either the legislator or their staff have background knowledge about wastewater treatment, water quality, or related topics. Further, it is important to stay flexible because congressional schedules are constantly shifting, so do not be discouraged if you end up meeting with staff members.

Below you will find a simple checklist of things to consider before your meeting with an elected official:

• Email or call Representative’s scheduler to set date and time for the meeting (2-3 weeks before is generally best for Congressional staff; as soon as possible is best for requesting a meeting with the Member of Congress.) Follow-up to confirm the meeting with the Scheduler (for a Member of Congress) or the staffer themselves in the weeks prior to the meeting date

• Review NACWA advocacy materials and familiarize yourself with current advocacy initiatives (2-3 weeks before)

• Research your policymaker’s relevant positions, and any relevant experience with your issues (1 week before)

• Determine your key points, review your “elevator pitch” regarding your utility, and prepare any “asks”, such as supporting a certain bill, legislative change, or program funding.

• Prepare packet with informational materials to leave behind (1-2 days before)

• Arrive at the office 5-10 minutes early.

While Congressional advocacy traditionally relies heavily on in-person meetings, during the pandemic work quickly went virtual. Virtual meetings and calls are widely in use now as substitutes. Capitol Hill is unlikely to open widely to visitors until Labor Day 2021, although this could change and to an extent will vary by Congressional office. Helpfully, the switch to virtual can allow meetings to be planned with less lead time. Additional considerations when planning a virtual meeting with a Congressional office include:

• Virtual does not mean casual. In a virtual meeting you are inviting an elected official or their staff into your home or office. If your background is inconducive to a meeting you may consider a virtual background with an image or brand of your facility to help leave an impression of the work of your utility.

• As the meeting is scheduled, confirm what virtual platform will be used (i.e. a conference call, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.)

• If the virtual meeting platform the Congressional staff want to use is new to you, practice with the platform in advance. Like you, they may have back-to-back calls scheduled and will want to start on time.