Visit Your Legislator

Make an Effective Legislative Office Visit

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) tracks legislation affecting patients living with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. We particularly need to take action regarding funding IBD research. One of the most effective ways to educate your local legislators about IBD is to meet with them in person. 

Below is a suggested template for your guidance when making legislative visits. Within accepted standards of ethical conduct, please feel free to adapt these steps to your personal style to best advance our cause.  

If you're having trouble scheduling a home visit, a Town Hall meeting is another opportunity for you meet your legislator. This is an ideal forum to ask questions, thank him/her for support or just strengthen your relationship with him/her. Prepare for this as you would for a one-on-one meeting, and review the speaking points provided below.

Step 1:  Lay the groundwork.

The first step to communicating successfully with your lawmakers is to be involved and informed.  You can start by signing up for the Advocacy Network to receive legislative updates and respond to Action Alerts. 

Learn as much as you possibly can about each legislator's background. Make sure to know their political party and which legislative committees they serve on in Congress. You may also want to learn personal facts, such as their hometown, education, and profession. These can provide insight into your legislator's world view. Find more information about your legislator.

Step 2:  Find out when your lawmakers will be in their local offices.

Congress takes several "District Work Period" breaks each year, and legislators spend this time working from their local offices rather than on Capitol Hill.  Members are also frequently at home during August, around holidays, and at the beginning and/or end of each week.  You can call the legislator's local office directly. They will be able to tell you when your Representative and Senators will be meeting with constituents in their local offices. You can also call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your members' Hill offices. 

Let your local chapter know when you have appointments scheduled. If your chapter has a Chapter Advocacy Chair, [he/she] will contact you to provide additional support. Perhaps the Advocacy Chair or ED will help to gather other constituents to accompany you.

Step 3:  Contact your representatives and senators.

Call the member's Washington office and request a meeting in the local district office nearest you. When attempting to meet with a member, ask for the Appointment Scheduler and explain the purpose of your visit. (Many offices schedule both Washington and home district visits out of the Capitol Hill office. If they don't, they'll refer you to the appropriate local contact.) Don't be discouraged if the meeting is scheduled with an aide, rather than with the legislator. A meeting with a key member of the legislator's staff can be highly productive.

Step 4:  Explain who you are and why you want to meet.

You may want to use this simple script:

"Hello. This is [your name] from [city & state] . I'm a constituent and [a patient with IBD, have a family member/friend with IBD, doctor with IBD patients]. I would like to stop by the [Representative's/Senator's] local office and briefly talk with [him/her] about supporting issues pertinent to our patients,  Crohn’s and Colitis Caucus, or thank [him/her] for [co-sponsoring this bill or to follow up on our meeting in Washington during IBD Day on the Hill].

Step 5:  Confirm your appointment(s).

Some offices may ask you to send your request in writing (email or fax). Whether you are requesting an appointment or confirming one, follow up your calls with a letter to request and confirm your visits. If you don't hear from the scheduler, be polite but persistent. Don't give up!

Step 6:  Be prepared for your visit:

  • Review the speaking points.  Please download and print all CCFA fact sheets provided on our website to put in a folder for your legislator. To access our fact sheets, click on the gray tab marked "Press" at the top of our home page.
  • Know the priorities and be familiar with how it affects you, family members, patients, or CCFA in general.  Have the materials for your lawmakers in hand as you depart for your visits.
  • Bring your camera. This is an excellent photo opportunity and lawmakers love good PR. Offer your photos to your chapter for their newsletter.
  • If other advocates are joining you for your meeting with your legislator, decide in advance who will be the spokesperson(s) and who will leave the materials.

Step 7:  Be prompt and patient during your visit.

When it is time to meet with your legislator, be punctual and patient. Lawmakers have very busy schedules- a late arrival may mean that you miss your appointment.  However, it is not uncommon for a lawmaker to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted, due to the member's crowded schedule. Be flexible if your time is cut short—offer to accompany your lawmaker to his or her next appointment so you can talk further.

Step 8:  Be to the point, politic, and polite during the meeting. Then ask for something to be done.

Make sure to concentrate on one action item and be well organized in the meeting. Use personal stories to underscore a point about the issue that brings the concern home to the lawmaker's district or state (e.g., how increased funding for the NIH will provide further IBD research (possibly in their district or state) better diagnostic techniques and treatments, and ultimately, a cure).  You should be able to state your views in about half of the time allotted for your meeting, giving you time to hear the lawmaker's thoughts on the subject too.

Members of Congress want to represent the best interests of their district or state. Be careful not to antagonize or lecture the lawmaker or, conversely, say only what you think the lawmaker wants to hear. Be straightforward but courteous in expressing your views, and be receptive to the lawmaker's questions and comments. If the lawmaker doesn't volunteer his or her position on the issue—ask!

If you're asked a question that you can't answer, don't guess.  Instead, say that you will look into the question and give the lawmaker an answer as soon as possible.  In fact, this gives you an opportunity to speak to your legislator again.  Please call the CCFA's Director of Advocacy, 646.943.7439 with any questions you cannot answer.  We will be happy to provide any information you may need.

Please remember, as a non-profit 501(C)(3) organization, CCFA, by law, cannot make political contributions to members of Congress. Individuals may make contributions to legislators in line with existing Federal campaign finance laws. CCFA does not endorse any political candidate and seeks bipartisan support for its public policy initiatives.

Be sure to politely ask your lawmaker to do something!  For example: "My purpose today is to ask you to  join the Crohn’s and Colitis Caucus.  This may sound trivial, but numerous lawmakers complain that they meet with lots of nice constituents who never make it clear what it is they want.

Step 9:  After your visits:

Complete a debriefing form (.doc) for each local office visit you make so that it can be used in helping to move IBD related legislation forward.  Or follow up with a lawmaker who has a question, needs more information, or wants to support our bill. Sharing this information puts us in the best position to succeed.  Be sure the information is sent to Amy Kornbluth, akornbluth@ccfa.org.

Be sure to also send a thank-you letter and reiterate the key points you discussed. Be sure to provide any additional information you may have promised.

Step 10:  Continue your advocacy efforts.

Although CCFA cannot endorse a candidate, we encourage you to do the following:

  • Invite your legislator to attend various chapter events and other photo opportunities.  It is also appropriate to honor a local legislator for his or her commitment to the interests of IBD patients and their families.  For example, you might present a CCFA Award for Legislative Excellence at a luncheon or dinner.
  • Attend a local fundraiser or event of the lawmaker's.
  • Visit your legislators in their Capitol Hill offices when you're in Washington.

If you have any concerns or additional questions not covered in these instructions, please contact the Director of Advocacy at CCFA's National Headquarters, 800.932.2423, ext. 7439.

Good luck!