How to have a productive meeting with your legislator

Tips for a successful meeting with your legislator

Whether on your own, or with us at our Conservation Lobby Day, meeting with your legislator is an effective way to make you voice heard by the right person on the issues you care most about. Here are some tips for a successful meeting with your legislator.Be on time.If it's just you or if you're with a group, it is important to arrive on time. If you're the first one there on time, go in anyway. It’s better if one person is late than the whole group.

Introduce yourself with some context. Reference any affiliations you might have in your community – member of the PTA, president of a hunting club, on the library board, etc.

Some chit-chat is great, but there is such a thing as too much. Casual conversation is how you establish rapport, so it’s definitely a good thing to pursue. Just be mindful of the time. Your meeting will go fast. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you came to talk about your conservation concerns.

Be organized. Ih you're in a group, decide beforehand who will talk on each issue. If you have a large number of people, the reality is that you won’t all be able to talk about all the issues. Plan to share the most important stories about why you care and and which stories will be the best to share with the legislator.

Share your stories. You don’t need to be a policy expert! Help the legislator attach a human face to the conservation issues being raised. Explain why you are concerned and what impacts you anticipate on your family and community. If a photo helps illustrate your point (a favorite state park or a lake overrun with pollution), bring it to share.

Be respectful. No matter what happens in your meeting, be respectful. You want to leave the legislator’s office with the ability to always be welcomed back.

Schedule a follow-up meeting or activity. Consider setting up a follow-up visit or activity with the legislator before you leave their office. There’s no better way for a decision maker to see the real impact of their policy-making than to actually see it, so think about taking them on a tour of a threatened or saved piece of land, bringing them to your home to see your water quality problems, or meeting with a local conservation group at a regular meeting. Invite them before you leave the meeting.

Take a selfie! Ask the staffer to take a picture of the group with the legislator. It helps end the meeting on a fun note. You can share your photo with us at info@conservationvoters.org and we might feature it on our website.

You’re going to do great – thanks so much for advocating for your conservation values!

How to handle some common meeting situations

What if my legislator isn’t there? There is a chance that your legislator will be in a committee meeting or on the floor during your meeting time. If that is the case, you will meet with a staff person who will take detailed notes. The staff person may also take you to meet the legislator. If you do end up meeting with just the staff person, it’s important to recognize the significance of that opportunity. Legislative staff are a trusted resource for the legislator. Your discussion with the staff will certainly still influence your legislator.

What if my legislator is focused on something other than my issues? i.e., "Have I told you about my bill to make Oscar the Grouch the Official Sesame Street Character of Wisconsin?" Politely but firmly, take the conversation back to your issues with an approach like, “We’d like to find a time to learn more about that. At today’s meeting however, we came to talk about our shared support of these four conservation issues.”

What if my legislator asks me something I don’t know? This is not a problem at all. You should feel perfectly confident answering with something like, “That is a great question. I don’t know the answer to that, but I am going to make sure we get you an answer as soon as possible.” Write down the question then transition back to why you are concerned about this issue.

What if my legislator says they can’t do anything without seeing amendment language or without knowing exactly how we will pay for it? This answer shouldn’t prevent you from getting a sense of where they are on the issue. Try a response like, “I understand that your official position will depend on reading the language but in general, could you support the key positions that we have laid out here?”

What if my legislator has excuses – they say they can’t do anything because they are in the minority party, not on the committee, etc.? In order for the budget or a bill to become law, they will have to take a position at some point, so try an approach like, “I understand that legislators have different roles in the process, but as our legislator do you support this program?”

What if my legislator totally disagrees with us on the issue? Don’t beat a dead horse. Move to the next issue with a transition like “I appreciate that we can’t always agree on everything. We hope that you will keep our concerns in mind. The next issue we’d like to talk to you about is X.”

What if my legislator is already a really helpful/enthusiastic supporter? “It is so great that you are supportive of these issues. We know that the hard work of revising the budget/passing the law is happening right now. Would you be willing to lend your public support to getting these changes into the budget/passing the law and making sure members of your caucus also support our issue?”

Three rules for being a successful citizen lobbyist:

  • Be yourself.
  • Be respectful.
  • Stick to what you know.
  • You’re going to do great – thanks so much for being here to advocate for your conservation values!