Following Up with Your Member of Congress

Welcome back to this series of excerpts from my new research report Thrill on the Hill: How to Turn Congressional Testimony into Public Policy Success. Stay tuned for more in weeks to come.

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Once your round of Congressional testimony is complete, what follow up steps with members of Congress and their staffs are most valuable?

There are two follow up phases. First comes your liaison with people from outside your organization. Upon conclusion of your testimony appearance, shake hands and exchange a few words with committee members who stay until the end. This is a crucial step in your relationship building process. Next, do the same with Congressional staffers. Remember, these are the folks who you are likely to be in contact with more regularly. Finally, don’t ignore your fellow witnesses, be they friend or foe. This helps you strengthen relationships with like-minded groups while potentially easing tensions with those who oppose you. Plus, you never know when today’s foe may become tomorrow’s ally.

Thank You, Paper, Message, Note, Grateful, Text, LetterAlso remember to send thank you notes to committee members and staffers. Traditional mail is a good idea as there is nothing like a handwritten note. Realize, however, that it will take several weeks to arrive in the designated Congressional office since all mail is screened offsite. In addition, it is irradiated to a crisp, transforming your resplendent stationery into what appears to be 18th century parchment. One brilliant idea given to me by a government relations executive a few years ago is to go ahead and send that thank you note via surface mail. But before sending it, scan it, and e-mail it to the member or staffer. That gets it there in timely fashion while still maintaining at least some degree of personal touch.

And yes, these thank yous are important “No matter how you were received,” points out one respondent to our survey of government relations experts.

Second comes the business part of your follow up. The committee may well have posed questions for which you had no ready answer (don’t be embarrassed, this is routine; just be sure the questions revolve around specific, technical issues and not your broader message). So remember, in the words of one expert surveyed, to “follow up on questions asked that the witness wasn’t able to answer or that we would like to clarify further in writing.”

Be sure to “Answer all additional follow-ups in a timely manner,” reminds another.

Hold on a moment. You’re not done yet. “Share the written testimony via email to all member staff and offer yourself as a resource for additional Q&A,” urges another of our experts. After all, some may have missed the hearing due to conflicting commitments. And others may need a gentle reminder of your views.

One respondent points out the importance of “work(ing) with our media team to promote the testimony.” Reporters have scheduling conflicts, too, so be sure to send your oral statement to scribes who cover your issues. Of course, you will have contacted them in advance to alert them to your appearance on the Hill in an effort to gin up as much coverage as possible.

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