All associations and chambers strive to represent their members. While some organizations have government affairs teams, those without such a team may feel that establishing and maintaining a relationship with elected officials, especially those on the national stage, can be daunting. As a former congressional staffer, I hope this post can guide those in organizations who are struggling (or who have never attempted) to develop a relationship with their representative and his/her office.
Having a relationship with your congressional office will help you know the most effective strategy and who to contact when you need your voice to be heard. It will also inform the congressional office about your organization and its value to the community. Based on my experience, the two points below will help you develop this relationship.
Know the contacts. Of course, the main person to know is the elected representative. However, you should also get to know the staff in Washington D.C. and in the district. Generally, D.C. staffers focus on legislative issues while district staffers handle outreach projects and constituent services. In the D.C. office, you’ll want to know (and meet, if possible) the legislative assistant who specializes in the issues affecting your organization. Getting to know the legislative director and chief of staff would be great too. If you want to request a meeting with your representative, you’ll need to learn who the scheduler is and the best way (phone, email, website request, etc.) to reach them. In the district offices, you should know and meet the field representative and district director. The staffers in the district are a great resource since they pass along information learned at events in the district.
Put in the effort. Initially, you want to simply introduce your organization to the office. To maintain the relationship, be sure to offer invitations to your events. When they’re not in D.C., most representatives travel across their district learning more about the issues affecting their constituents. So extend an invitation for the representative to visit your organization during an upcoming constituent work week. It’s a great way to have a face-to-face meeting without traveling to Washington. Keep in touch with congressional staff by inviting them to events, even when the representative can’t attend. Before working in the D.C. office, I worked in a district office and regularly attended legislative meetings at a local chamber of commerce. This was a great opportunity for me to learn about the issues affecting the chamber and its members. I passed these concerns along to the representative and other staffers.
Building a relationship with your congressional office is worth it. As an example, last year an executive director of a local nonprofit from my congressional district testified in front of a congressional committee examining charitable contributions as it pertained to tax reform. Her relationship with her congressional office allowed her organization’s interests to be heard on the national stage. Isn’t it time you and your members are heard too?