Tips for Writing to a Member of Congress

The letter is the most popular choice of communication with a congressional office. If you decide to write a letter, this list of helpful suggestions will improve the effectiveness of your message.

Addressing Correspondence

To a Senator  To a Representative
The Honorable [Full Name]  
United States Senate 
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator [Last Name]: 
The Honorable [Full Name]  
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. [Last Name]:

 

Purpose of Your Letter

  • Your purpose for writing should be stated in the first paragraph of the letter. If the letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it accordingly, e.g. House Bill: H.R. ____, Senate Bill: S ___.
  • Be courteous, to the point and include key information, using examples to support your position.
  • Address only one issue in each letter and, and if possible, keep the letter to one page.

Click here to download this information as a Word document template.

 


Sending Email to Congress

When addressing an email to a member of Congress, follow the same suggestions as for a printed letter. For the subject line of your email, identify your message by topic or bill number. The body of your message should use the following format:

Your Name
Address
City, State ZIP
Dear [Title] [Last Name],

 

NOTE: When writing to the Chair of a Committee or the Speaker of the House, it is proper to address him/her as:

Dear Mr. Chairman;

Or

Dear Madam Chairwoman;

Or

Dear Mr. Speaker;

Click here to download this information as a Word document template.

How to Schedule a Meeting with a Legislator

State and national legislators make time for meetings with constituents as part of their duties as elected officials. As one of the most powerful ways to advocate for agribusiness policies, face-to-face meetings make your company and your issue more memorable to legislators.

It is important to note that the legislative staff is very important too – as they are trusted to research upcoming issues and share feedback with legislators. Whether you meet directly with your Senator or Representative or with their staff, you are building a relationship with the legislator and bringing greater attention to your legislative needs.

You can set up a meeting by following the steps below.

1. Find the Office That You Would Like to Visit

State legislators have an office at the Ohio Statehouse where you can schedule to visit. Similarly, U.S. Senators and Representatives maintain offices in their home states that allow their constituents to meet with them or their staff, as well as their offices in Washington, D.C. Visit your legislator’s website for more information.

If you do not know your legislators, use the links below to find out:

2. Contact Your Legislator’s Office to Set Up a Meeting

Once you have chosen your local office, use the guide below to contact your legislator’s office to schedule a meeting.

Understand your legislator’s schedule. For state representatives, find out when they will be in their Columbus offices.

  • Decide which office you’ll be visiting. While the legislature is in session, federal legislators will be in Washington, DC, while state legislators will be in Columbus. While the legislature is in recess, legislators will likely be back in their local offices. You can check your senators’ and representatives' websites to find out when they are on recess.
  • Request a meeting. Most legislators’ websites include a “Request for Meeting” form that you can fill out online OR offer an email address for the person in charge of scheduling their appointments. Before calling your lawmaker’s office, fill out the form or send an email request for a meeting. If you are sending an email, it should contain the following:

 

  • Follow up your request with a phone call. A day or two after you anticipate your communication has arrived, follow up with a phone call to your legislator’s local office. Ask for the person in charge of scheduling your lawmaker’s appointments. The following script can help guide your
YOU: Hello, my name is [YOUR NAME] and I live in [CITY/TOWN]. I wanted to follow up on my request to meet with Congressman/Senator [NAME] regarding issues that impact Ohio’s agribusinesses. Is Congressman/Senator [NAME] available to meet with me on [DATE]?
OFFICE: I’m sorry -- the Congressman/Senator isn’t available on those dates.
YOU: Could you let me know some dates that he/she or a staff person might be available to meet with me?

 

  • Write down the date, time and person you spoke with. If you have not heard back in a few days, call again to follow up. Be polite but persistent!
  • Recognize that you might meet with a member of your legislator’s staff. Sometimes legislators may not be available and you will be scheduled to meet with a member of their staff. This is still a wonderful opportunity! Legislators rely heavily on their aides to make decisions as aides are policy experts. Your meeting with a staff member can inform his/her recommendations to your legislator and also build an important relationship with your lawmakers’

3. Confirm Your Appointment 

The day before your meeting, call your legislator’s local office to confirm your appointment. Your legislator’s office may request a list of those who will be attending the meeting, if there are attendees other than yourself.

4. Follow Up Your Meeting with a Thank You 

After your meeting, be sure to send a thank-you letter to your lawmaker and/or your lawmaker’s staff. Thank them for taking the time to meet with you and re-iterate the asks that you made in your meeting. Your legislator and his/her staff will appreciate it – and it is a great way to remind them about your requests!

Host a Visit

On-site visits are a powerful way to introduce legislators and regulators to your agribusiness and its day-to-day operations. The Ohio AgriBusiness Association is pleased to coordinate on-site visits and will act as a liaison between you and the legislator's office. If you are interested in hosting a visit at your facility, please contact Chris Henney at chenney@oaba.net to begin scheduling. 

Preparing for the Visit

Legislative visits are most powerful when you take time to plan the visit and prep your staff. See tips below for best practices:

Talk with OABA. Your association is a great resource for helping to plan your facility visit. OABA can provide talking points, advice for structuring the day, coaching for staff, and more. 

Inform your staff of the visit. Make sure all staff know the date and time of the legislative visit. Though you should take time to prep to anyone who will be involved in the visit, all staff should be aware you will be hosting an important visitor. 

Plan the visit. Know where in the facility you will take your visitor and alert staff in those areas that you will be bringing the visitor through. See below for key elements to plan in your day.

Prepare your script. Have your "script" prepared for the day, everything from company details to regulations/issues you wish to feature. Ensure all involved in the visit know what they are responsible for. 

Anticipate questions. Your visitors will likely have many questions about your operations and the issues your company faces. Think through what questions they may have and be prepared with answers.

Practice. Prior to the visit, plan a walk through of the day, visiting every area and talking through your script as a staff.

Clean the facility. Take extra time to make your facility presentable. Ensure there are no safety concerns or regulation violations. 

Remind the day before. The day before the visit, remind your staff about the upcoming visit. You may encourage staff to wear their company shirts to show off their company pride. 

During the Visit

Each visit will look different, but a success visit will include the following:

Welcome and Introductions. Upon their arrival, greet your legislator and their staff warmly - as if you were welcoming them into your home. Introduce them to all who will be involved in the day's visit. 

Company Overview. Introduce the visitors to your company, your history, current operations, territory, staff size, community involvement... whatever you deem most important. This provides your visitors background on your operations.

Facility Tour. As you are able, showcase all areas of your facility and explain their importance to your operation. 

Question & Answer. Leave ample time to allow your visitors to ask questions. 

Take a Picture & Share It! Legislators love engaging with their constituents online and showcasing the visits they've conducted in their districts. Commemorate the visit with a photo in front of your facility sign and share it on your social media channels. 

After the Visit 

Send a thank you. Send a thank you note to your legislators' office, thanking them for visiting and highlighting any key issues you discussed.

Continue the relationship. Site visits are a powerful tool and deepen your relationship with your legislators. Continue to engage with your legislators through phone calls, emails and office visits when the need arises. 

Lobbying 101

Lobbying 101

Ask for Support

  • Know your objective. The purpose of the meeting is to gain the legislator’s support and commitment to vote for your position on the issue
  • Personalize the request. Face-to-face meetings are one of the best ways to communicate. Make certain the legislator understands you are there to demonstrate that this issues affects his or her constituency.

Be Brief… and Prepared

  • Respect the legislator’s time constraints. You will probably only have a 15 to 20-minute meeting. Be on time and be prepared to make your points quickly and get your message across in 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Make your points concisely and coherently. When possible, provide bill numbers and titles.
  • Be knowledgeable about the issue. Know the facts and what the opposition is saying.
  • Emphasize how the issue affects you. Explain the impact on your business, your employees, and your community.
  • Do not guess. If you are unsure about the answer to a question, offer to follow up with more information.
  • Leave a fact sheet with the legislator that summarizes the issue.

Close the Deal

  • Be persuasive. Present your viewpoint politely, but convincingly. Speak concisely and with commitment. Stress the positive impact of the legislation you support and relate the negative impact of opposing the legislation.
  • Be firm. Find out where your legislator stands on the issue. Ask what position and what action he or she will take. If the legislator does not yet have a position, ask when you can expect an answer.
  • Listen carefully. Hear what the legislator says regarding his or her concerns and position. Unless you hear, “I am with you” do not count on the legislator’s vote.
  • Follow up. Always send a thank you letter for the meeting. Include a brief summary of your position and any new information you may have.

Twelve Steps for an Effective Legislative Meeting

  1. Introduce yourself and tell the elected official or their staff person who you are representing. Be certain to describe your operations, the location(s) and the number of employees and let them know of any special connections you may have with the legislator.
  2. Start with a compliment. If the member is to receive an award, here is where you present it and thank them for their past support. If you voted for them, this is where you may want to tell them that. At the very least, thank them for taking the time to meet with you.
  3. Take the initiative and state clearly and concisely what issues you want to discuss, what your position is and follow this with facts about why he or she should take your position
  4. State how the issue affects the member’s district or state. If possible, tell a personal story which highlights your experience with the issues and why you care about it.
  5. Give the legislator a brief fact sheet which outlines your position.
  6. Mention any other organizations, important individuals, government officials and legislators that support your position.
  7. Be a good listener. After you make your pitch, allow the member to respond. Be sure to bring the conversation back to the issue at hand if the conversation veers off in another direction or the member attempts to evade the issue
  8. Answer any questions to the best of your ability, but if you are unable to answer, admit it. Offer to follow-up with the information and do so promptly.
  9. Answer a direct question to which the legislator can respond “yes,” such as, “can we count on your support?” Press politely for a commitment unless the member is clearly opposed to making your position or to making a commitment.
  10. Always thank the member for his or her time at the end of the meeting, even if he or she did not agree with your position
  11. Record any information regarding the member’s position or view immediately after the meeting.
  12. Always follow up with a prompt thank you letter.

 

Do's and Dont's of Communicating with Members of Congress 

Do Don't
  • Communicate clearly the subject or subjects in which you are interested
  • State why you are concerned about an issue or issues. Personalize the issue if you can
  • Restrict the number of issues you discuss. Concentrate your arguments.
  • Put your thoughts into your own words. Be yourself.
  • Use the meeting to begin to establish a relationship with your member of Congress if you don’t already have one. In general, you will have more influence as a constituent.
  • Find out what committees and subcommittees your Representative or Senators serve on. Members of Congress have more influence over legislation within their committees’ and subcommittees’ jurisdiction
  • Don’t threaten or hint “I’ll never vote for you unless you do what I want.” Present your case and ask for consideration
  • Don’t drone on about an issue or anything else. Time is the most precious commodity any of us have. Use your time with the member or staff wisely.
  • Don’t pretend to wield vast political influence.
  • Don’t be condescending if you are meeting with staff. Staff members often hold strong sway with the member of Congress they serve.
  • Don’t lie or exaggerate.

Find Your Legislator

If you do not know your legislators, use the links below to find out: