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August Recess Site Visits More Important than Ever

Advocates Alert: June 22, 2009

Now is the Time to Schedule August Recess Site Visits

In recent weeks, we’ve been pleased to see several land trusts here in DC visiting their Representatives, making sure they know the good work they are doing in their communities.  You don’t have to come here to do this, because this summer, Congress can come to you!

We are at a critical juncture, where building your relationship with your Congressional delegation may be absolutely essential to your organization’s success.  We will need every U.S. Representative to understand the work land trusts are doing if we hope to cope with the challenges ahead.

Indiscriminate IRS audits of conservation easement donations and bargain sales are increasing.  The special tax treatment those donations have had since 2006 is scheduled to expire at the end of this year.  The Congress is moving forward on global climate change legislation, and is talking about major increases in funding for conservation.  But so far, that legislation makes no mention of land trusts, and may include provisions that will increase the threat that new powerlines and gas pipelines will impact lands you have worked hard to preserve.

Your Representative cares about what happens in his or her Congressional district – and about the people who live and work there – that includes you, your board members, your donors, and everyone else who cares about your mission.  How do you make sure your Representative understands how important your work is?  A great way to start is to ask your Representative to cosponsor H.R. 1831, the bill to make permanent the enhanced tax incentive for conservation easement donations.  Don’t assume your Representative is OK, or impossible, or that they will sign up because they did last year.  You have to ask!

Even if your Representative has already co-sponsored H.R. 1831, a great next step is to invite your Members of Congress to participate in events with you over their August Recess.

This year’s August Recess is a full 5 weeks from August 1 to September 7.  Members of Congress pack these weeks with visits to groups of concerned constituents – like you!  And you have an advantage: you have spectacular landscapes to show off and thankful landowners to go with them!

Arranging an August recess event is easy compared to a flight to DC, and rather than 15 minutes with your Representative, you could have hours!  But their schedules are already filling up, so the time to get started is NOW.

A complete guide and templates are available at www.lta.org/policy/lobbying101/meet, but some highlights are featured below.


What kind of event do you want to host?

Be creative and flexible! You could invite your Members of Congress to any of the following:

  • A site visit to a recently conserved property to meet a landowner of modest means who benefited from the incentive
  • A public education forum to spread the news of the easement incentive to landowners (see separate guide in the Grassroots Toolkit)
  • A press conference at one of your preserves where you present an award for your Representative’s leadership in renewing the easement incentive
  • An existing event like your annual dinner, a volunteer day or a nature hike.
  • A meeting in your legislator’s district office – this may be less glamorous, but it’s a great chance to meet your Rep. and invite staff into the field
  • If you have trouble scheduling a meeting of your own, consider attending your legislator’s town hall meeting, pancake breakfast or similar event. These can be great opportunities to get face time.

 

How to get started?

It’s great to brainstorm some fun ideas, but it’s important to remain flexible and build your event around what the legislator wants.

  1. Start by calling up their nearest district office (check at house.gov or senate.gov).
  2. Ask who handles scheduling in the district and how they prefer to receive requests (generally fax or email)
  3. Put together a brief written request based on our template. Include some potential highlights but emphasize your willingness to adapt the event content, duration and timing to their schedule. For August, get your request in NOW.
  4. After several days, call and speak with their scheduler about timing and options for the event. Schedulers are very busy, so if you don’t get a call back, keep trying or follow up with another staff member you’ve met before.
  5. If possible, keep your event timing fluid. You’ll often need to reschedule or grab an hour of availability that comes up on short notice.
  6. Don’t forget to invite staff – even if the legislator is unable to attend, his or her district director can be an important ally.  Or invite the DC staffer who handles tax or conservation issues to come see the work you’re doing in the district.

Click here for a gallery of a dozen such events, hosted by land trusts around the country.

We are here to help and would love to hear about your event. If you have any questions or have photos to share please email policy@lta.org or call 202-638-4725 and ask for Sean.

Thanks for helping!

Important Reminder

If you receive a donation of land or a conservation easement, you must send a letter to the donor acknowledging the gift – or you put them at risk of an IRS audit! Click here for more on substantiation letters.

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