Meeting your representatives
Building relationships with local policymakers is important. Inviting a lawmaker to tour your afterschool program is one of the best ways to show him or her firsthand the impact of afterschool programming on students and families in their district and/or state. This step-by-step how-to guide will help you get started, plan a visit, execute the visit successfully, and make the most of opportunities to continue this budding relationship with a lawmaker after the fact.
1. Identify your federal legislators
Your afterschool program is represented by at least one representative and two senators. Keep in mind that if your location is situated on or near a Congressional district line, you may have students, families and employees from multiple Congressional districts. In this case, you may want to expand your reach beyond the members of Congress who serve your district to those who also represent the interests of the students and families you serve.
2. Identify upcoming federal recess periods
Members of Congress travel in and around their home districts during certain times of the year. These “recess” periods are the best time to invite your members of Congress to visit your facility. Congress is usually in recess during most federal holidays. Longer recess periods revolve around Presidents’ Day, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July and the entire month of August. In election years, Congress tends to adjourn in October, leaving the rest of the fall open for visits.
3. Invite your representative for a visit
Due to the demands on members of Congress, their schedules fill up quickly. Your invitation letter should be sent several weeks in advance of your preferred date for their visit. The letter should be personalized with specific information about your afterschool program and should include a window of time during which you would like them to visit (i.e. the August recess period). The letter should be printed on letterhead and signed by the head of the program. The letter should then be emailed to the member’s scheduler. A sample invitation letter is available in the Resources section below.
4. Follow up with the representative’s scheduler
Contact the member’s scheduler within 24 hours of sending the invitation to make sure it was received. He or she will work with you to set a date. If the member’s schedule is too tight this recess period, suggest another time or offer to visit the member and/or his or her staff at the district office at their convenience. The scheduler will be able to arrange that meeting or will pass you to the district office to set up a time.
5. Coordinate with the member’s communications staff
It is up to the member whether or not the press should be involved. If media coverage is agreeable with the elected official, you'll want to produce media materials well in advance of the visit as it can often take days for a member’s office to approve materials. Be sure to draft a media advisory, press release, and photo release for review by the member’s office.
- Media Advisory: A brief written notice to media about an upcoming event or announcement. The advisory will concisely list the date, time, location, purpose of the event or announcement, participants and contact information. Advisories are typically a page or less in length, and should be circulated to the press, including the photo editor of the local newspaper, within five business days of the event or announcement.
- Press Release: A written communication announcing news that is sent to media. Usually contains a point of contact for further media inquiries or requests, and quotes from those associated with the news. The release should be put on letterhead and be approved by the Member’s office prior to distribution. The release should be circulated to the media as soon as the visit begins.
- Photo Release: Similar to a press release, a picture from the event or announcement that is released to the press for publication. Should include a photo credit and brief caption that identifies people in the photo. In this case, the photo should include the member of the Congress meeting with program leadership, employees and/or students if pre-approval has been received, and must be approved by the member’s office prior to distribution. The photo should be circulated to the media and/or sent to photo editors at target publications as soon as the visit concludes.
In addition to these media tactics, the member’s visit should be featured on social media and on your program’s website along with a brief write-up and photo.
6. Create a fact sheet and relevant materials
A fact sheet is a great document to share with the member’s office in advance of their visit so that they are familiar with your program, the services you provide to students and families, and who benefits. Your program fact sheet should include: current employment numbers, your footprint in the district, interesting facts about your program including the number of students your serve, and positive testimonials of parents, community leaders, etc. The fact sheet should also be given to the member along with an issue backgrounder as “take away” materials from the visit.
7. Confirm with the representative’s scheduler
It is best to contact the scheduler one to two weeks in advance of the visit to confirm the meeting, and confirm who will be attending the visit with the member—make sure you have that person’s contact information. Items you should provide the member’s office for this conversation include:
- Schedule of events for the visit (sample included in the Resources section below)
- List of program participants and their bios
- Map/directions/parking instructions for the member and Congressional staff
- Program contact name and number(s) for event
- Materials about the program and an issue backgrounder
- Media confirmed to attend the tour (if available)
- Confirm whether or not the staff would like to do a walk-through 24 hours in advance of the member’s arrival and if so, present a schedule and confirm logistics for the walk-through
8. Notify your staff and employees about the visit
Employees, staff and families should be informed of the Congressional visit and your expectations. The more prepared everyone is, the better the visit!
9. Perform walk-through with program leadership one day ahead of the visit
The route should be mapped out so that the event and tour run smoothly and on time. A walk-through the day prior to the event is recommended to ensure that all participants understand their roles, know the purpose of the visit, are aware of the route that will be taken in and around the building and know how much time they will be allotted for their portion of the presentation. This is also a good time to review messaging. Present leadership with a schedule and a key messages document.
10. Issue the media advisory and finalize other press materials
Within five business days in advance of the visit, issue the media advisory to the press, including the photo editor of the local newspaper. Follow up with a phone call and a reminder e-mail the day of the event. Also work with the member’s communications team to finalize the press release.
1. Greet the member and his/her staff (2-3 min.)
It is often good to have a “Welcome Representative/Senator [Name]” banner or sign in an area with high visibility for the member to see as soon as he/she arrives. Program leadership should be on hand to greet the member and his/her staff when they arrive on site. Preferably, one or two employees or representatives from your facility should also be on hand. You may want to consider including a representative from one of your community partners and/or a local business leader who is involved in the program and understands how vital your program is to the local community and state. Following brief introductions, the tour should promptly begin.
2. Tour your facility (20 min.)
The head of the program should lead the tour. This is the best time to show your work “in action” to the member and his/her staff. Have a camera ready to capture the best moments.
3. Meet with employees and/or staff (30 min.)
At the end of the tour, you should allow the member to have open interaction with students and employees. This will allow him/her to offer remarks and answer questions.
4. Closing remarks and thank you (2-3 min.)
Close out the visit by thanking the member and his/her staff for visiting the facility. If you wish to present the member and their staff with a small (under $50 according to ethics rules) token of your gratitude, this would be the time for that presentation. Make sure also to supply the member and staffer with your take away materials.
5. Issue the press release and/or photo release
Circulate the release(s) to the media and/or send to local press contacts.
1. Send a thank you letter to the member
A thank you note should be sent shortly after the member’s visit. To ensure delivery, it is best for this letter to be sent via email to the staffer who attended the visit with the member.
2. Monitor for media coverage of the visit
If/when positive articles about the tour are published, make sure to pass them along to the member’s communications staff.
View these supplemental resources to make your site visit planning as easy as possible.
Plan well in advance
Elected officials have numerous constraints on their time. Your chances of successfully recruiting a representative to visit your program require that you invite him/her well in advance.
Be flexible with your dates and times
Recess periods are often long and some dates and times may work better than others. Accommodating the elected official can mean a lot in the long run.
Invite the relevant education policy staffer to accompany the member
While the elected official is the boss, his/her staff can be key advocates of your cause and are often in charge of the “day to day” dealings with the office.
Distribute schedules to everyone who will be involved in the tour
It is important that the tour run as smoothly as possible and that everyone involved knows his/her role. Once the schedule has been finalized, create a schedule to distribute to all participants. Send a copy to the member’s scheduler.
Involve your employees, staff and/or local leaders
Representatives will want to interact with staff as a way to better understand how your program is adding value to the local community. Invite local leaders who understand your footprint in the community and state and can reinforce your messages.
Take the member wherever they request
While you may have planned your tour, oblige the member if they request to go into “uncharted” territory. Sometimes representatives will request to walk into an office or talk to employees in passing; these are positive encounters. However, this also shows the need to make everyone aware that a member of Congress will be visiting, and they should be prepared to answer any questions.
Let the member dictate the timing
While it is important to spend as much time with the member during his/her visit, schedules are tight and they may need to leave early. However, if the member is engrossed and has an open schedule, let the visit run over by keeping the conversation going and the member engaged. A well-orchestrated hour tour should be the goal.
Members are unable to fill all the requests that are sent to them. Try again for the next available time they will be in their district or state, or offer to visit their district office for a quick meeting with the member and /or their district staff at their convenience.
Assume the members know about the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative
Remember, some members have little working knowledge of the Community Learning Centers initiative and how it has been implemented in communities—urban and rural—across the United States. Use this time to educate them about afterschool programming and the importance of the Community Learning Centers initiative and the work of the Afterschool Alliance.
[Your Address – VERY important]
The Honorable [member of Congress name]
[Capitol Hill office address]
Washington, D.C. 20510
Via fax: [fax number]
Dear [member of Congress name]:
I would like to invite you and your staff to visit the [Bright Lights Afterschool Program] during your next district working session. Our program provides [300 middle school children] with safe, educational afterschool activities during the critical hours between 3 and 6 p.m., when many parents are still working and juvenile crime rates triple. Students in our program are not only safe, they are doing better in school and show more interest in learning.
We would like to take you on a short tour of our program on [date] at [time]. If that time is not convenient, we would be happy to work with you to find a time that is. I have also invited members of the local [Rotary Club] and several parents to attend. They are eager to talk with you about the importance of keeping afterschool programs open and making these programs available to more children.
I hope you will join us and see our program, and our students, in action. Afterschool programs such as ours are important because they inspire students to learn, keep kids safe and help working families. The [city or town name] community relies on us.
A profile of the [Bright Lights Afterschool Program] is enclosed for your reference. I will contact your office within the next two weeks to follow up. I look forward to seeing you on [date].
Thank you for your consideration.
Policy maker arrives at the program and is greeted by the program director or other lead host.
Lead the policy maker on a tour of the facilities. Let them see what activities the youth are engaged in.
Afterschool snack time! Let the policy maker enjoy a snack and talk with the children about their favorite parts of the program. Ask the kids where they would be if they did not attend afterschool or what their friends do after school.
After the snack, facilitate a discussion between parents and policy makers. Ask the parents to explain how the afterschool program helps their families.
Ask the principal or superintendent to talk about school-wide improvement attributable to the afterschool program. For example, ask the principal to show the policy maker the school's improved assessment scores.
Thank you and goodbye!
[Your Address – VERY important]
The Honorable [member of Congress name]
[Capitol Hill office address]
Washington, D.C. 20510
Via fax: [fax number]
Dear [member of Congress name]:
Thank you for taking the time to tour our [Bright Lights Afterschool Program] during your recent district working session. The youth, parents and program staff enjoyed meeting you tremendously, and we were delighted to have the chance to share our activities with you.
I hope your visit helped reinforce how much our community values this program. As we discussed, and as I have witnessed firsthand, afterschool programs keep kids safe, inspire learning and help working families.
I look forward to meeting with you again to further discuss the ways in which we can work together to ensure that afterschool programs stay open and are available to more children in our community and our state. Thank you again for taking the time to visit!
Check out these additional resources to help cultivate partnerships.
- Webinar: Site Visits
- Sample Site Visit Scripts
- Program Profile Template
- Talking Points: How to Talk About Afterschool
Learn how policy is made and how you can help shape it
Policy is generally crafted by elected officials and their staff. They appropriate money for afterschool programs and decide how those funds can be used. The job of these policy makers is to represent you – their constituents – so your opinion on issues is extremely important to them. That’s why it is essential to tell your elected officials about issues that matter to you.
It's important to think through your outreach strategy before meeting with elected officials and other policy makers. Here are some helpful tips and suggestions to help you prepare for meeting with policy makers to advocate for afterschool.
Your homework. Before making contact, learn key background information. Visit a senator's or representative's website. States and many local municipalities also have websites where you can find information on elected officials. Be sure to know if they are in the Afterschool Caucus.
Be specific. When you call, email or meet in person, tell the official why you are there and what you want. Your interaction might only last a few minutes. Be sure to mention it if you are a constituent.
Establish yourself an expert information source. Elected officials have limited time and staff and many competing issues to consider. That's why advocacy is so important. You can fill their information gap and become their "expert."
Bring materials to leave behind. Leave your elected official with a profile of your program and any other materials that describe your program's benefits for kids and families in your community.
Follow up after a meeting. Send a personal thank you note to the official and staff for their time. If you promised information, be sure to get back in touch quickly.
Think you have to know everything. It's okay to admit you don't know something.
Burn bridges. Work to find some sort of consensus and always leave on positive terms.
Forget. Elected officials work for you! You should be courteous but not intimidated.
Nonprofit rules of engagement
It can be confusing to know how you can involve yourself in an election while representing a nonprofit organization. There are a few simple ground rules that you need to follow:
Equal outreach – all contact with and materials sent to campaigns should be the same for every candidate. For example, if a Democrat, Republican and Independent are all running for mayor, you must send information to all three candidates. If a candidate contacts you for more information, document that contact and if other candidates reach out to you, you must offer them the same information.
Documentation – keep a calendar of each time you reach out to a candidate and every time a candidate contacts you. This will help you keep track of your equal outreach efforts.
Nonprofit election and lobbying guidelines – Lobbying can be confusing if you work for a nonprofit organization. The following guides outline what employees of nonprofit organizations can and cannot do:
Frequently asked questions
- Can an organization state its position on public policy issues that candidates for public office are divided on?
- An organization may take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for public office as long as the message does not in any way favor or oppose a candidate.
- Can an organization post information on its website (or link to other websites) about a candidate for public office?
- If an organization posts something on its website that favors or opposes a candidate for public office, it is prohibited from political activity. If an organization establishes a link to another website, it is responsible for the consequences of establishing and maintaining that link even if the organization does not have control over the content on the linked site. Be aware that linked content may change.
Election season presents an important opportunity to put afterschool on the radar of policy makers and the public in a visible and meaningful way. During election season, voters' concerns are brought to the forefront of the public debate. The resources in this toolkit will help you spark conversations about afterschool with candidates for office in your local community or state. Included are talking points, sample materials, and information on how your non-profit organization can participate in the electoral process.
Know the Facts
Afterschool and summer learning programs are locally-designed school and community solutions that help kids learn and grow, keep children and teenagers safe, and support families to balance work with home. We want the public to know why afterschool matters, and candidates to know that supporting afterschool is important to voters. Take a look at what research has to say about afterschool and how you can talk about afterschool and summer programs to others.
What does the research say about afterschool?