Meeting with state legislators is a highly effective way to help them understand your position on an issue or the services your nonprofit organization provides. Legislators welcome visits from constituents and organizations that serve those constituents. They want you involved! But they are busy people, so plan ahead and use your time well.
Determining Who to Meet
The Colorado General Assembly has 65 Representatives and 35 Senators. It’s important for them to know how your organization’s work impacts the local economy and the people they serve. If you don’t know who your legislators are, you can find your legislative districts by looking up your residential or organizational nine digit zip code at votesmart.org or openstates.org. The Legislative Directory is helpful for identifying legislators, their roles, and their contact information.
Consider starting with your state Senator and Representative. In addition to your legislators, you may want to build relationships with legislators from other communities who have professional experience relevant ot the work of your organization, Colorado has a citizen legislature, rather than a professional legislature, so most legislators have experience in other professions and may have other jobs currently.
Additionally, certain legislators may be in a position to have influence on key issues for your organization. If bills relevant to your organization tend to be referred to particular legislative committees, then your organization may wish to have relationships with the chairs or members of those committees. Also, certain legislators are in a leadership positions in their parties or their chambers, so those legislators may be particularly important to know.
It’s helpful to be aware of ideology and the current balance of power in the General Assembly. Typically, having good relationships with all parties and working in a bipartisan (or multipartisan) fashion is the best way to get things done. However, one party may be in a better position currently to have influence on your key issues or may be more sympathetic to your cause, or both. Nonprofits should consider all these factors when determining which legislators to meet. However, remember that nonprofits are prohibited from campaigning for one party or another.
Setting Up a meeting
During the legislative session (January to May), it’s best to contact them at the Capitol. Outside of the session, they may make home contact information available. In any case, use only the contact information they provide publicly unless they give you permission to contact them a different way.
When you contact legislators, offer several dates and times and do your best to accommodate their schedules. Because they have busy schedules, particularly during the legislative session, you should make an appointment in advance and expect to get about 15 minutes. During the legislative session, their schedules may change at a moment’s notice, so be prepared to reschedule if necessary.
Prepare for the Meeting
- Identify items to discuss with legislators including any asks.
- Prepare a brief fact sheet or other materials about your organization or your key issues to leave with the legislator.
- Try to learn in advance where your legislator stands on key issues. Check media articles, legislator websites, and social media pages for more information.
- The General Assembly website allows you to look up bills and votes from current and prior sessions. Use the keyword search to find key bills and check the journals for their floor votes.
- Note: If you are meeting with a legislator for the first time, you may want to focus on introducing your organization and establishing credibility before making any big asks. “Don’t ask a stranger for a favor.”
At the Meeting
- Be punctual, prepared, polite, and professional. Wear business attire.
- Don’t be surprised if they don’t know a lot about your issue – that’s why you are there! You are the expert!
- Be prepared to explain the following (in a 90 second speech in case the appointment is interrupted):
- what your organization does, why your work matters, and how it affects people in the legislator’s district;
- any related or allied groups related to the topics discussed;
- how any key bills discussed affect you and others in your district;
- your ask of the legislator (what you want the legislator to do; how you want the legislator to vote, etc)
- Leave the fact sheet or any materials behind
- If you don’t know the answer to a question say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I will find out and get back to you…” – and then DO.
- Before leaving, ask how you can be of help to him or her (more information? A site visit?).
- Follow up with a thank you note and provide any information that was requested from the meeting.