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2024 District Advocacy Meetings

Organize a District Advocacy Meeting

Help mark 20 years of this annual mobilization

For the past twenty years, one of the primary ways National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) contributes to Peace Corps Week has been to encourage our community to reach out to lawmakers and urge support for a strong, improved, and well financed Peace Corps. 

While our National Day of Advocacy began with our urging supporters to simply write or call their lawmakers, we soon added an annual in-person Capitol Hill Advocacy Day to the event. More recently, the event has turned into a two-month National Days of Advocacy, to promote activity among those individuals who can’t make it to our nation’s capital, but can organize and/or participate in advocacy activities closer to home.

A key part of those “closer to home” activities? Seeking district office (or virtual) advocacy meetings with your lawmakers during the months of March and April. While there are many ways you can assist us from home, one of the most important actions advocates can take to support a better, stronger Peace Corps involves organizing district office meetings.

 

A Critical Time for the Peace Corps

The Peace Corps is coming back, with nearly 2,400 volunteers now serving in nearly 60 countries. Later this year, 2024 will also mark the return of the first post-pandemic, 27-month volunteers. This is why we need your engagement as we:

  • Urge increased funding for the Peace Corps, so that serving and returning volunteers are supported, and the Peace Corps can meet the growing demand for more volunteers.
  • Urge Congress to finally pass the bipartisan Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (Senate Bill 1203; House Bill 1273).

Many challenges to our Peace Corps agenda remain. There are serious divisions within Congress, particularly when it comes to federal spending. In 2023, less than thirty pieces of legislation were passed by Congress. And, as 2024 elections will soon consume Congress and our country, we need to rally now to show strong support for the Peace Corps!

 

What if I’ve never participated in an advocacy activity before? 

No problem! While past experience helps, passion and preparation can more than make up for limited experience. If you are new to organizing or participating in advocacy activities directed at Congress, contact us at [email protected] to learn how you can help.

If you are uncertain about your ability to have an impact, you must read this story featuring two RPCVs who participated in our National Days of Advocacy for the first time in 2021.

Then, register your intention to seek a district office meeting here.

Six Steps to Organize a Virtual or District Office Meeting

While there are many ways you can assist us from home, one of the most important actions advocates can take to support a better, stronger Peace Corps involves organizing a virtual or district office meeting close to home.

If you are uncertain about your ability to have an impact, you must read this story featuring two RPCVs who participated in our National Days of Advocacy for the first time in 2021.

Here are six basic steps to organize a meeting with your congressperson or their staff.

Step 1: Determine the office you will pursue for a meeting and find contact for that office. Let NPCA Advocacy know of your plans.

First you will want to determine which lawmaker(s) represent you in Congress and who you want to pursue for a meeting. You can go to www.senate.gov and/or www.house.gov to find your representatives. If you don’t know your House representative, go to the upper right corner of the House website and put in the zip code for where you are registered to vote.

In deciding which lawmaker to prioritize for meetings, consider their committee assignments (members of the appropriations or foreign affairs/foreign relations committees would be key); opportunities to strengthen bipartisan support for Peace Corps, and/or increasing the number of co-sponsors on Peace Corps legislation. With more than seventy new members in the new Congress, these individuals are also important candidates for meetings, so we can introduce them to issues related to Peace Corps and the Peace Corps community. You can visit NPCA’s state resources page for background on your state’s congressional delegation. Contact us if you have any particular questions or needs about your representatives.

Below is the tracking map for our 2024 National Days of Advocacy. (NOTE: Blue pins represent a meeting or other type of activity that is being pursued with no confirmed date. Yellow pins represent an activity with a date that has been set. Red pins represent the meeting or activity was held. Green pins represent a news article or op-ed that was published. Black pins list the known number of communications sent to Congress from each state during the Days of Advocacy). You can review this map to see if meetings have recently been scheduled or held with your lawmaker(s).

Step 2: Try to find at least one Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) or other Peace Corps supporter to join you.

If you are pursuing a meeting with your representative(s), it is always good to have at least one other supportive individual with you for the meeting. Contact us if you would like NPCA to reach out and help you find one or more partners. While we cannot promise, we can try to find someone to join you.

Step 3: Identify a communications platform from which to hold your meeting.

While in-person meetings at district offices have returned and are the best way to build a relationship with the office, you may still face situations where your district meetings will not be in–person. In some cases (particularly Senate meetings in a large state), a virtual meeting might work better for interested advocates.

Therefore, we suggest that before reaching out to the office to pursue a meeting, determine if you want to pursue an in-person meeting at the district office. If you want to pursue a virtual meeting, determine a communications platform from which to conduct the meeting (if necessary). NPCA and a number of affiliate groups use Zoom for this purpose. With enough advance notice it is possible NPCA or your local affiliate group can reserve their zoom channel for a meeting. You can also sign up for your own Zoom account for free (while the limit using this channel for free is 40 minutes, this time allotment fits within the standard time for a congressional office meeting).

If a video communications platform should not work for you, you could pursue organizing a meeting via a conference call. It is also likely that the office of your representative may have their own platform from which to conduct your meeting.

Step 4: Request your meeting!

In most instances when visiting the website for your Member of Congress, look under the “Contact” section on the website to find the locations and telephone numbers for your closest district office(s). Many lawmakers also have specific forms through which you can request a meeting.

Because it may take weeks to get your meeting scheduled, you are encouraged to make your initial meeting request as soon as possible.

  1. Call the office (or use the congressperson’s meeting request form), and identify yourself as a constituent and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

  2. Tell them that you would like to schedule a meeting with the lawmaker to discuss the importance of the Peace Corps, including Peace Corps funding and the need to pass the “Peace Corps Reauthorization Act” legislation.

  3. Determine if your meeting will be in–person or virtual.

  4. Work with the district office to arrange a meeting that fits your schedule and the schedule for your lawmaker. If the lawmaker is unable to meet, express a willingness to meet with a member of the staff.

  5. If you are filling out a meeting request form, you may be asked questions where you may not have complete answers (e.g. list the names of people who will be joining the meeting, or list the bill numbers of the legislation you wish to discuss). It is okay to indicate that you are still working on finalizing the agenda and your attendee list, and will provide updated information later.

Should your meeting be virtual, there is a greater possibility that a member of the lawmaker’s Washington staff who is responsible for international affairs issues will be able to join.

Will I get a meeting with my lawmaker?

It is possible, but not certain. Each year, a number of our advocates are successful in securing direct meetings with lawmakers. In other cases, our advocates met with district office or Washington staff (virtually). A virtual meeting may provide added flexibility through which a lawmaker can briefly join a meeting to hear from constituents. The best approach is to seek a meeting with your lawmaker and try to be as patient and flexible as possible to get that meeting. However, if that doesn’t work out, a meeting with staff is perfectly fine! They often have a lot of influence over what legislation their boss will support. Being as flexible as possible raises the likelihood for a meeting with the member or with their international affairs staff in Washington. You can contact NPCA staff to discuss strategy and prepare.

Step 5: Hold a pre–meeting conversation to determine roles and responsibilities.

Keep your fellow meeting participants up–to–date on any developments, including status of the meeting and topics to be discussed. If possible, get together as a group before the meeting. Even if it is just 30 minutes before you meet your lawmaker, getting together ahead of time to prepare for your meeting is extremely important and will increase your confidence and effectiveness.

NPCA can work with you to increase awareness and support about your upcoming meeting with other RPCVs in the area. Please let us know how things are going in the days/weeks leading up to your meeting. Promoting your meeting will help us build momentum as we demonstrate the vast support for Peace Corps all across the country.

What if lots of people want to join my meeting?

It is ideal to have a group of perhaps 3–5 people actively participating in a meeting. It is possible more people will want to join. It is fine (and important to your success) to have a gathering of large numbers of advocates to show the lawmaker the wide and strong support for the Peace Corps. However, this circumstance will make the pre–meeting conversation all the more important, to make sure roles and talking points are clear. Group participants will need to know that while all are welcome, in a very large group, not everyone will have the opportunity to speak. But simply showing up and listening is an important contribution.

Resources and Talking Points

As you and your team prepare for your meetings, be sure to contact NPCA advocacy to receive materials you can provide to the district office, as well as internal talking points for you and your fellow advocates, as you plan to discuss our key advocacy issues.

Step 6: After you hold your meeting, follow up with the office and with NPCA advocacy.

NPCA would like to help you make the most of your meeting and assist with any follow–up to make sure your lawmaker’s staff is aware of your ongoing interest in their support for the Peace Corps. Sending a quick note to the congressional office thanking them for the meeting can also go a long way in building support for a strong, respected and well–funded Peace Corps.

Steps to a Successful Meeting

1. Select A Group Leader – Get the Meeting Started

The Group Leader will begin the meeting and set the tone. Group leaders should express thanks to the office for the opportunity to meet and begin the meeting with brief participant introductions, should the time and number of participants allow.

If time and the size of your group allows, everyone follows by telling staff their name, where they reside and country and years of Peace Corps service. Let staff know that you are a constituent.

If applicable, thank the office for their past support of Peace Corps appropriations and/or legislation. Go to NPCA’s State Resources page for updated profiles on every member of your state congressional delegation, including past support for key Peace Corps legislation and other congressional actions.

2. Ask for Something Specific

At any meeting, you should arrive prepared with one or two (no more than three) specific requests. Make sure you clearly state what your request is.

EXAMPLES

We are asking the Senator to support no less than $_____ million for the Peace Corps in Fiscal Year 2025

“We are asking Senator ____ to please cosponsor Senate Bill 1203, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act.”

“We are asking Representative ____ to please cosponsor House Bill 1273, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act.”

3. Manage Your Meeting Time

While circumstances can differ, it is likely your meeting will last between 15 – 30 minutes. You and other members of your group will want to be aware of this, so that you can successfully carry out your agenda. Try to keep your remarks brief and focused on the key points you want to discuss.

4. Share Your Peace Corps Experience

While meeting time is limited, one of the most powerful elements of meetings with lawmakers and/or their staff is to share your Peace Corps experience. In all instances, individuals should share a very brief summary of their experience in order to personalize and humanize the work of Peace Corps Volunteers and the friendships they have made with others around the world.

5. Share “Leave Behind” Documents

During face–to–face meetings, we normally encourage the preparation of a “leave behind packet” through which you can provide a lawmaker or staff with background information or key points in support of your position. NPCA has PDFs of selected electronic handouts that you can consider sending prior to or immediately following your meeting (or to share if you have an in–person meeting). You also could share items electronically that help tell your Peace Corps experience such as photos or a brief video. Remember, however, that “Less is more”.  Don’t overwhelm the lawmaker or staffer with too many preparation or follow-up materials.

6. Remember The “4 P’s” Of Effective Citizen Lobbying

While the ultimate goal is to convince a lawmaker to take positive action to advance Peace Corps’ future, there are key secondary goals as well, including having the lawmaker or staff leave with a good impression from the meeting, and building the foundation for a longer–term relationship going forward. One way to achieve that is by practicing the “4 P’s” of citizen lobbying. It is important to be…

  • Polite: Lawmakers and their staff work very hard. While we may not agree with all their positions, it is important to be polite and respectful of their public service. Thank them for taking time to meet with the group, and thank them for their public service. Conducting the meeting in this regard increases the prospects that your message will be heard and received. You want the official to end the meeting feeling positive about the encounter, and open to the idea of connecting with your group in the future.

  • Passionate: As you share your experiences and positions, let the official know how important they are to you. Whether discussing hardships you have faced as a Volunteer (or RPCV), the love that you feel for the country and people where you served, or the belief you have that Peace Corps is the most important component of our nation’s outreach to the world, be willing to demonstrate how much these issues mean to you.

  • Patient: More often than not, when you make a specific request during a meeting, you won’t get an immediate response, but sometimes you will. A lawmaker might say “Yes, I can co-sponsor that bill”, or a staffer can say “As a rule, our position is that we don’t do that”. But many times, the response will focus on the need to examine the matter more closely, to give the request further consideration. That’s okay. You can thank them for taking time to consider the issue, and ask if they have any additional questions or needs. Which leads to the importance of being…

  • Persistent: When the staff or a lawmaker say they need some time to consider the issue, respond by thanking them, and asking how long it might take for them to consider the matter and when can you follow up with them. Then, be sure to follow up! Use the interim period to send a brief message thanking them for the meeting. Use the interim period to address any questions raised or provide other pertinent information. And, use the interim period to connect with other constituents to ask them to write or call urging support for your position. Don’t let the conclusion of the meeting be the conclusion of the conversation.

Alternatives to District Office Meetings

You can consider other alternatives to show support of the Peace Corps. As many affiliate groups are holding regular virtual or in–person gatherings (happy hours, dinners, storytelling programs), you could invite your lawmaker or their staff to attend your gathering and say a few words. Alternatively, you can work with others to have an evening where local people come together to write letters to their lawmakers, hold an advocacy workshop, plan to submit a local/state request for a Peace Corps proclamation, or more.

Another possibility comes when lawmakers host virtual or in-person town hall meetings to discuss issues and connect with constituents. In some cases, the lawmaker may control the agenda to the point where you don’t have an opportunity to bring up an issue. At the same time, a town hall will likely involve lots of other attendees who may want to speak to a variety of issues.

In recent years, a growing number of our advocates have participated in our National Days of Action by writing and submitting op-eds or letters-to-the-editor in local/regional newspapers or news websites that accept opinions. You can join in this effort. Contact us for more information.

Make a Special 20th Anniversary Donation to Support Our Days of Advocacy

Twenty years of NPCA’s National Days of Advocacy could not have been possible without the generosity of NPCA community members. Celebrate this achievement and support this year’s mobilization. Our goal is to raise $20,000 by April 1st to support this 20th anniversary of our Days of Advocacy. Celebrate 20 years of our Days of Advocacy with a special $20 contribution (or more if you are able!). Make your donation here. (Check the “I would like to dedicate this gift” box”, then select “In Honor Of”, and then write “NPCA Advocacy”. Thank you!)