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Establishing and Maintaining Congressional Relationships: Tips for Grant Recipients & Associates

Why? By communicating with your elected officials and their staff, you can communicate the importance of agricultural research, education, and extension programs to those who determine the program's future. Connecting with your Congressional Representatives and Senators also affords you opportunities to:

  • Make members of Congress aware that agricultural research, education, and extension are real by showing them how they are being practiced in their districts.
  • Showcase how their investments in agricultural research, education, and extension contribute to their district or state.
  • Outline in lay terms what you do; how agricultural research, education, and extension help you; and how your work benefits the community.

How? There are various ways to contact your Congressional Representatives, but written invitations are probably the most effective. Write a letter inviting your Senators and Representatives (your Congressional delegation) plus their staff to meet with you or to tour your farm, business, university, or organization's research site for a brief presentation. You can find your House and Senate delegations online. You can send your letter to either the local or Washington office. You can mail your letter to your Senator's or Representative's local office, but fax it to the Washington, DC, office to ensure timely delivery.

A cautionary note: If you work for a university or other institution, check for any recommended procedures before starting this process. At many institutions, a legislative affairs contact will want to work with you on your Congressional outreach.

Members of Congress always seek events to attend in their districts. Most Senators and Representatives return to their state or district offices during holidays and recesses, so check the House and Senate calendars online so you can suggest a reasonable date for an activity. Develop a relationship with the local office staffers, who will likely be very receptive to your overtures. Keep in mind that they want to send their Senator or Representative out into the community.

Here are some potential ways to connect:

  • Schedule a meeting at your farm, business, university, or organization's research site. In your invitation, make the proposed visit sound interesting and informational, focusing on your good work and the good work of the overall program. Then, take them on a tour and brief them about your activities. Consider inviting interested neighbors, such as farmers, representatives from local agricultural organizations, and other grant recipients. If you do, mention in your Congressional invitation that other constituents will be there. Remember to ask other invitees to encourage the member(s) of Congress to accept your invitation.
  • Schedule an event at your farm, business, university, or organization. Invite members of Congress and Congressional staff. Consider partnering with other agricultural groups, such as your Farm Bureau chapter, or a professional agricultural society. Plan something big enough to attract a critical mass, including the media. Write a press release and send one to the Congressional representative's press secretary.
  • Don't forget important post-event correspondence. Write a thank-you note to your Congressional representative. Also write a letter to the editor of your local news-paper(s) describing the event and thanking your Congressional representative for his/her support.
  • Get acquainted with newly elected officials at town hall meetings, civic organization meetings, etc. Make a particular effort to meet the legislative assistant for agriculture.
  • Schedule an in-office meeting. Most members of Congress use recess periods and weekends at home to meet with constituents in their local offices. Schedule an appointment to meet locally. If you travel to Washington, DC, call the Washington office beforehand and make an appointment. You may meet with a legislative aide, but that's all right. A “legislative assistant” is considered a senior staffer. You can encourage the staffer to use you as a resource for agricultural issues.