Hosting Successful Site Visits
This training features in-depth case studies and best practice stories from CCL leaders about how they planned and successfully hosted site visits for their members of Congress.
Background on Importance
To establish relationships with our members of Congress (MoCs) and to lay the groundwork for a pitch for their support on this issue, we can meet with them at their district offices and organize effective in-district site visits to encourage their commitment to passing climate solutions legislation like the Energy Innovation Act.
The videos in this training highlight case studies of events in Michigan and Utah for how to plan these events. Such visits are like field trips: The member of Congress gets out of his or her office somewhere “in the field” to talk with constituents one on one about what’s important to them. These events connect the member of Congress with constituents’ values and can be used to demonstrate growing political will in the district. The most effective visits are those that affect all the senses, where the member of Congress can touch and feel things, or hear personal stories.
Because they can provide a more tangible and specific backdrop to asking for their support for policies like the Energy Innovation Act, the member of Congress may be more likely to be receptive.
Bradford Fitch, President and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and author of “Citizens’ Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials,” says that, based on his organization’s research, “members of Congress consider visits to local facilities, more than any other source of information, to be the most valuable way to understand constituent views and opinions.” For citizens, such visits are among the most effective ways they can interact with their member of Congress, build relationships with them, and influence them.
These events might showcase the specific impact of climate change, such as the effect of sea-level rise on Florida’s coastal communities or the deterioration of skiing conditions in Utah. The events could also showcase how citizens are helping solve the climate crisis, by showing people building or using renewable energy or farmers extracting and storing carbon.
Step-by-step overview of planning process
Here’s a brief overview of the process:
- Begin planning at least 5-6 weeks out.
Focus on the big picture: What message do you want to convey? Then reverse engineer the sequence of steps necessary to ensure the event has the intended impact. Put yourself in the member of Congress’s shoes: Think about how the event can promote the member of Congress’s goals or pique his or her interest to attend.
- Visualize what event photos will look like.
Average-looking people and those in uniform photographed casually with smartphones work better than “guys in ties” photographed professionally.
- Identify the process within the member of Congress’s office to schedule the event.
You may need to download a form, enter data in an interactive web form, fax a hard copy form, fax a request on letterhead, etc. Call your district office to determine the preferred process.
- Keep the Congressional calendar in mind.
They typically have 12-13 recesses per year, which you will want to take advantage of for a site visit.
- Be flexible about the date and time of the event.
- Identify the process within your CCL chapter.
Who owns the success of the event? Establish a team so there’s a second point of view and responsibility can be shared due to illness or a family emergency at the last minute. What knowledge, skill sets, and relationships can you draw on from members participating in the planning? As planning tasks become clearer, who will take responsibility for each? Assign deadlines by creating a calendar of what needs to be done by whom and when.
- Do homework on your member of Congress.
What’s his or her position on climate change? Has he or she made any speeches on the topic? For members of Congress that are resistant, a useful approach to the district office is to say: “I understand the member of Congress has made some tough statements on climate. Might he or she might be interested in hearing about x?”
- Draft the ask in writing.
This step is worth 50% of whether the ask is accepted. Include clear logistics (who’s involved, specific names), paint a picture (the nature of the location and sequence of events), include contact information (two people with emails and cell phone numbers), and show the impact of climate change in the district. CCL volunteers may have relationships, say with a mayor or leading businessperson, that can be leveraged. If such people can be enticed to participate, the member of Congress will be more likely to say yes. But limit the number of luminaries and make sure no one outranks (or even equals in rank) the member of Congress. If normally competing organizations plan to participate, that will pique the member of Congress’s attention: Why are they working together?
- Follow up. Be persistent.
Thousands of communications come through a district office, so your request may fall through the cracks. Find out how quickly the office typically takes to respond to a request for a meeting with the member of Congress. After two weeks, district offices mostly (43%) will have responded. If you reach week four without response, it’s okay to follow up: Call the district office and say something like this, “I sent a request. I think I did it right. Can you please check on it?”
CCL Case Study: Hosting an in-district town hall
When former Rep. Mia Love (R, UT-04) had her first town hall, ten CCL volunteers from her district attended. They submitted questions, but discussion largely focused on air quality, which is always a pressing issue in Utah. Following CCL’s November lobby day, Rep. Love made an offer to host a town hall meeting. “Our jaw was on floor,” reacted one volunteer. A similar reaction came from some of Rep. Love’s staffers.
So CCL volunteers and district staffers began working together to organize the event, cooperation essential in developing mutual trust. CCL tried to figure out what Rep. Love’s office wanted the event to be, then tried to make that happen. Announcing such an event has been described as “an invitation to extremists on both sides,” but everyone involved in the planning wanted a productive, issue-oriented discussion to help build support for climate solutions among her constituency. So they sent invitations to CCL volunteers, business leaders, academics, a VP of a local oil company and more.
Jay Butera who had worked with Rep. Love’s DC staff suggested that “The Years of Living Dangerously” might want to film the event, which Love agreed to. At the event, Love served as the moderator with four panelists: a member of the governor’s Office of Energy Development, a climate scientist from a local university, Jerry Taylor from the Niskanen Center, and the CEO of an electric vehicle company in Utah. Their opinions varied widely, but opening up the conversation was valuable. After the town hall, CCL volunteers supported Love to produce a 4-minute video of the town hall meeting to continue raising awareness of climate change.
Thereafter, Rep. Love wrote an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune, suggesting that it’s possible to find climate solutions and have a thriving economy. In conservative Utah, it made a resounding statement. Since the town hall, three pieces of bipartisan Utah state climate legislation were introduced one of which passed. Thanks to events like these, it’s clear that the climate conversation is politically tenable for both state parties in Utah and that’s a remarkable step forward.
CCL Case Study: Hosting a student presentation
Last summer, the Traverse City group took high school students to the June CCL conference and lobby day, which resulted in Rep. Jack Bergman (R, MI-01) committing to join the Climate Solutions Caucus. At that point, Bergman was engaged and wanted to know what else he could do. His idea: I will come to your school so you can pitch the idea of a carbon fee and dividend policy to me as a business proposal.
The chapter met twice a week, conducting research and preparing their presentation. Then they held practice sessions with community leaders to provide feedback. One included members of the business community, the other legislative leaders. (Rep. Bergman is a businessman turned politician, so the students needed to reflect on both perspectives.) These sessions also provided the additional opportunity to educate community leaders on carbon fee and dividend policy and work to get them on board.
What the students found was that the panelists were less invested in them than their parents and teachers, and, as a result, provided the critical feedback they needed. The legislative panel in particular focused more on student delivery. “Appeal to your audience,” they suggested. “Connect on a local level.” As a result, the students reorganized the entire presentation.
The result was a site visit with Rep. Bergman that “could not have gone better.” The students demonstrated their passion for the topic and largely conquered their nerves. Perhaps because they were so well prepared, Rep. Bergman had very few questions about the actual policy. Plus, the students had fun. Their empowerment was recorded in a documentary of the visit made by the Traverse City public school system, which they could then share with other CCL chapters. For the full version of the Michigan students inspirational story in working with Rep. Bergman be sure to watch their student-created video story!
Intro & Agenda
Site Visits Overview
Intro & Agenda
Site Visits Overview