Advocacy 101: Scheduling a Meeting with Your Member of Congress

AHA’s Rachel Jenkins shares best practices for engaging with your elected lawmakers and their staffs. For more best practices and other resources, visit

The email hits your inbox – the AHA is mobilizing on an important advocacy issue! You read that over the next few months, the nation’s hospitals and health systems will need to be active and engaged with their members of Congress to ensure success. You’re up for the task… but where to start? AHA’s Advocacy 101 series is intended to help hospital leaders take those first steps in political advocacy.

Getting on a lawmaker’s calendar is a critical step for advocacy, providing an opportunity for face time with the individuals who make a difference at the federal level. Whether it’s a visit to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., or hosting a tour of your hospital, here are some key things to know, along with some important do’s and don’ts.

Get to know the staff and how a congressional office is organized.

It’s good to know who your member of Congress is – but it’s equally important to know his or her staff. A member of Congress is the head of a complex and diverse team of staff who keep them informed, manage his/her schedule and maintain the office’s connections with its constituents.

  • Every office has a scheduler, who operates a little like an air traffic controller in the sense that she or he are in charge of coordinating all the moving pieces for a member of Congress, starting with meetings, hearings, votes and trips.
  • The chief of staff serves as the right hand of any elected lawmaker and wields overall responsibility for the political outcomes of legislative proposals, votes and requests from constituents.
  • The legislative director manages the legislative agenda and oversees a team of assistants who are assigned specific issues, like health care or workforce. This group evaluates legislation and makes recommendations on prospective changes or positions.
  • The communications director or press secretary leads communications between the lawmaker and the public, and works with the media proactively and reactively to advance the member of Congress’ messages.
  • District office staff take on casework and community outreach on a local level. They’re a great place to start and to meet with if you want a member of Congress to come visit your facility or you wanted to really dive deeper on a local or more state-level issue.

Know where to start.

Start by working with the scheduler. To find contact information, look online at the member’s congressional website. Most members of Congress will have a form for constituents to fill out which then goes directly to their staff. This is a great tool if you are a constituent. Another option is to send the scheduler an email directly. You can call the congressional office to get the name and email of the scheduler. Schedulers prefer emails or the online forms which helps them keep track of the potentially hundreds of requests coming through to their office.

Know what the congressional office needs.

Before you hit send on your email, you’ll want to double check to ensure you’re including:

  • the name of the group/organization within your hospital that is coming to meet with them, including, details on any district connections to the member of Congress;
  • dates and the times of the proposed location of the meeting (D.C. office or in the congressional district), while noting if these days and times are flexible;
  • how many people will be in the meeting;
  • brief description of the topics you’d like to discuss; and
  • whether this is a request for a meeting with the member of Congress and/or their staff.

Know your audience.

Members of Congress really likes to hear about the district impacts of your issue and what is happening back in their district that they need to know about. Legislative and policy staffers, on the other hand, will want to dive in a little bit more onto the policy and how that is impacting you.

Try not to look surprised if a staffer in their early 20s walks in to start your meeting, rather than your elected lawmaker. You’re actually in good hands — that young policy staffer is often better-versed on your issues than the member of Congress, and will be able to help make a strong case for the outcome you’re requesting. Staffers, regardless of their age and experience, are the gatekeepers of information for the members of Congress, experts in their issue areas, and very passionate about public service and serving you as a constituent.

Know what you’re asking for.

The “ask” is exceedingly important. It’s a clear distillation of how Congress can help you. Lawmakers need to know exactly what outcome you’re requesting and how it helps their constituents.

Do: Follow up within 1-2 weeks

Schedulers are often juggling numerous requests for the member of Congress’ time, so it’s ok to follow up if you haven’t heard back. Remember be patient and courteous when doing so.

Don’t: Go behind the gatekeepers’ backs.

It’s great if you already have a personal relationship with a member of Congress! You may have met them earlier in your careers by serving on a not-for-profit board or coaching each other’s kids. You’ll be tempted to make a call or send a text to them directly, especially if you haven’t heard back from the office. But while a member of Congress probably wants to meet with you, they're going to have a hard time following up and making sure that meeting gets scheduled. Lawmakers receive hundreds of texts and emails, and this can be very overwhelming to them. Hence, their staff and why they must be looped in.

So, if you do reach out, remember to always follow up with their staff, as they are the ones who know when votes are taking place, when committee hearings are scheduled and any other day-to-day duties are happening. Schedulers and district staff are very detailed and organized individuals; they can be your best friend if you engage and build that relationship when you're emailing back and forth through kind and courteous engagement. But if you cut them out of the process, it’s the quickest way to see your request put at the bottom of the pile.

Do: Plan ahead and be flexible.

It’s unlikely you’ll find success by emailing the day or week of when you want to meet and expect to get a meeting at the time you’re hoping for. Instead, allow at least 2-3 weeks to get on their calendars. Flexibility is important as well, especially when scheduling in-district events; members’ schedules can change with little notice and scuttle well-laid plans.

For more tips and resources on advocacy, visit

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