Meet with Congress Over Recess
To make the conservation tax incentive permanent and achieve your other legislative goals, it’s essential to build personal relationships with legislators and their staff. Members of Congress and other public officials spend much of the year in their district offices meeting with constituents, engaging the local press, and being seen in their communities. There simply is no better way to get extended face time and make a lasting impression than with a site visit or another creative event when your Members of Congress are home in the district.
Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind accepts an award from Mississippi Valley Conservancy and Gathering Waters Conservancy at a protected farm. View a gallery of other successful events.
Note that while most of these templates focus on the easement incentive, they could easily be adapted for the Farm Bill or other issues.
- Sample Scheduling Request
- Sample Media Advisory
- Sample Press Release
- Fact Sheet on the Easement Incentive
- Grassroots Toolkit (With a whole suite of materials for hosting a public forum)
What kind of event do you want to host?
Be creative and flexible! You could invite your Members of Congress, their staff, or other public officials to any of the following. You can combine these, but remember you’ll likely only have an hour or two:
- A site visit to a recently conserved property to meet a landowner of modest means who benefited from the incentive or other programs you care about
- A press conference where you present an award for your Representative’s leadership in renewing the easement incentive
- A public education forum spreading the news of the easement incentive or farm bill programs to landowners (see separate guide in the “Grassroots Toolkit”)
- 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
- Hosting or helping to host a conference call (tele town hall)
- 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 their schedule (for Congress, mid-week rarely works):
- Ideally, start building a relationship with a staff member who works on constituent issues like agriculture or conservation, then CC that staffer when submitting your formal request and be sure to involve them in the event.
- Ask who handles scheduling in the district and how they prefer to receive requests who handles scheduling in the district and how they prefer to receive requests (generally fax or email).
- 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.
- After 5several 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Who to invite?
In addition to your legislators and staff, you’ll want to think strategically about who to invite so your legislator sees the breadth of your support without too many voices to get you off message. Here are some participants to consider:
- Landowners who benefited from the incentive—think compelling stories, modest income, beautiful property, etc… Even if you only have time to visit one property, invite others and ask them to bring pictures of theirs.
- Members of your board or staff who have a personal relationship with the legislator. Ask around and be sure to mention them in your scheduling request.
- Key coalition partners. Be selective, but this can be a great way to demonstrate the breadth of your support while thanking a partner for their loyalty.
- The media? On one hand, press coverage can be a draw for the legislator and raise the profile of your work. On the other hand, securing coverage may take an enormous amount of effort and your legislator may not even want the publicity. It's best to call up your legislator's press secretary and ask how you can help--from attracting press attendance to a simple article in your newsletter.
Details to consider
- Capturing the event: Even if you don’t invite the media, you’ll want to take lots of pictures and take notes on the legislator’s remarks and requests for follow-up. These events can make great material for your newsletter or website and please be sure to send copies to firstname.lastname@example.org partners.
- Transportation: Most legislators will provide their own, but if for some reason you provide their transportation you’ll need to calculate the cost for use on their ethics reporting forms.
- Meals: If your event will be at mealtime, feel free to serve a meal. You may have heard of the new ethics reforms banning meals, but there’s a special exemption for meals up to $50 at events in-state.
- Awards: Providing an award, like a nice framed print of conserved land with a plaque, is a great way to thank your legislator for their support. Tell them a story about the property and use the presentation as a photo-op.
- Follow-up: Of course you'll want to send a thank-you note to your legislator for making time, but don't forget staff. It's a good idea to call up their DC staff to fill them in; this will get the wheels rolling and ensure they aren't blindsided when their boss gets back. Send them pictures too!
Special considerations for election season
As a public charity, your organization may never endorse a candidate for public office. If your Member of Congress is running for re-election, it’s critical that you plan your event such that no endorsement is implied:
- If presenting an award, ensure that the award and all related materials and remarks reference it as a thank you for a specific legislative action--renewing the easement incentive. "Rep. Jones Awarded for Leadership in Renewing Tax Benefit for Farmers & Ranchers" is OK. "Rep. Jones--Conservation Champion" could get your organization into trouble.
- If hosting a public or media even where the legislator will have an opportunity to speak, it's important to also invite their challenger to that event or another of similar importance. You need not make follow-up calls, and they need not attend, but the invitation is necessary.
- Be sure that all speakers, including the legislator, are aware that their remarks should focus on the easement incentive and avoid implying a broader endorsement in any way.
See our event gallery for some inspiring success stories.
The staff of the Land Trust Alliance is here to help. If you have any questions about how to host a site visit or if you’d like to share your success, please email email@example.com or call Sean Robertson at 202-800-2229.