Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meeting Your Legislator’s Staff on a Lobby Day

During your organization’s lobby day, some of your legislators will be unavailable and you will meet with their staffers instead. This may seem inconsiderate or a waste of time, but these meetings are just as important as meeting directly with your legislator. Let’s take a look at what a Congressional staff is like and what you can do to ensure that you have an impactful meeting.

In the House of Representatives, a Congressman’s DC office staff is typically 10-13 people, give or take an intern. When I have spoken with past lobby day participants, most are surprised that majority of their Congressman’s staff are young professionals. Yes, it is true that Congressional staffers are young with the average age range of 22-26 years old. The most notable exceptions are the chief of staff and legislative director, the two highest positions in the office after the Congressman. These positions are generally filled with middle aged professionals with a spouse, kids, mortgage, etc.

So why is the legislature staffed by college fresh twenty somethings? Well ,these staffers are often underpaid, starting salary for entry level position is around 25k a year and I have heard of salaries as low as 22k a year. DC is an expensive city and it is near impossible to support a family on this salary. Staffers are also over worked, in session staffers may work as much as 60-80 hours a week. Lastly, there is virtually no job security. All the federal employee laws that are in place in other departments do not exist on the Hill. Staffers can be fired at will and some Congressional members have a reputation for cycling staffers every 6-12 months. In addition, the staffers’ jobs are in danger every two years with elections. If the member is voted out, the staffer loses his or her job as well.

On the Senate side, the staff tends to be much larger. Depending on the Senator’s state size, position in leadership, and committee assignment, staff can range from 30-50 people. Many of these staffers tend to be young as well, but there are vastly more graduate degree holders working on the Senate side. There is slightly more job security for Senate staffers because elections only occur every six years, but Senators can also fire their staffers at will. The pay is also slightly better, but not enough to really make a distinction. The Senate staffers’ working hours are also identical to House staffers.

Now that you have some background on congressional staffers, let’s talk about what to expect during your meeting. The Congressional staffer is always very courteous during the meeting. The staffer will also pay close attention to your concerns, regardless of whether or not their boss agrees with your position. The staffer will be especially interested in your concerns if you are a constituent. A common error I find among lobby day participants is to not take the meeting with the young staffer seriously. This is a big mistake. Although young, I promise that the staffer is extremely well versed in the issues you wish to discuss. They eat, sleep, breath, swim, text, tweet, message, read, and everything else with the issues. Additionally, the legislator will turn to the appropriate staffer, regardless of age, for advice during crucial decisions and votes. It is imperative that you have a good meeting and leave a strong impression on the staffer as he or she will advise the member on that issue.

As Kaytee mentioned in an earlier blog post, the young staffers are generation Y-ers who are known for being technologically gifted and furious multitaskers. Be sure to be extra engaging in your meeting and include online resources such as QR codes on your business cards, social media channels, and digital copies of literature. Meetings with Congressional staffers are 15 minutes max. Ensure that you get the most out of your meeting by preparing your concerns into a concise set of points. I suggest doing some role play with a friend and/or practicing in front of the mirror the night before.

If your organization is interested in learning more about specific strategies while meeting with a legislator or his staff, I would suggest booking an Advocacy training specialist, such as the Advocacy Guru, to speak to your members before the lobby day. Happy Advocating!

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