Having members of Congress or their staff visit your campus can be a powerful opportunity to convey the importance of your scientific research to the nation's top policy makers.
Here are some tips for having the visit run smoothly.
Always work in concert with your university legislative affairs staff to issue any invitations and arrange any visits.
Select a block of time when Congress is in recess. (The congressional calendar is available on www.congress.gov.)
Send a written invitation on university letterhead approximately two months (if possible) in advance of the hoped-for visit. The invitation should be signed by the highest-ranking officer of the university that it is possible to get involved. The invitation should be issued far in advance for members because their schedules fill quickly, and far in advance for staffers because they need to get clearance to travel. You may need to pay for any staffer’s travel if they aren’t already scheduled to visit your district. (This applies more to committee staffers than to those in personal offices.)
Address the invitation to the member or staffer directly. Members should be addressed as "The Honorable Jane Doe." Do not mail the invitation but fax it to the attention of the Washington office scheduler. Personalize the cover sheet with the scheduler’s name (call UCAR's Government Relations Team if you don’t have it). If you are inviting a member, fax an additional copy of the invitation to any staff person in the member’s office with whom you may be working. Ask them to help facilitate the request with the scheduler and put it high on the priority list. At the end of the letter, name someone who will follow up with the scheduler by phone. Make sure that person calls within a few days and continues to call periodically to keep this invitation at the top of the stack.
In the invitation, outline the reasons why you want the member or staffer to visit campus and outline what the person will see and with whom they will meet. This does not have to be terribly detailed, but you want to make it interesting and substantive enough to warrant attention. As part of the invitation and visit planning, consider arranging an opportunity for the member to address a significant gathering of faculty members and administrators, which creates an opportunity for the member to have some visibility with his or her constituents.
You are likely to be referred to the district office at some point to work with the local scheduler. Be sure you learn eventually which staffer will accompany the member, and whether he or she will drive the member to campus. Make sure to send maps and clear directions, and try to send the visit agenda a few days in advance, if possible.
Every campus and every visit is going to be different, and the players should be identified by the objectives for the visit. But one constant in the case of a visit from a member is to have at least one very high-ranking university official involved substantively at some point during the day. The other constant is to have at least one knowledgeable person (possibly from the legislative affairs office) be the "guide" for the member throughout the visit. This person has to stick around for the entire visit and should not be dropping the member off for meetings and then coming back to retrieve him or her. Identify student participants who are passionate about their studies or their research - they can be very effective in communicating their enthusiasm about their work.
Give everyone who is on the agenda (and anyone who is sure to meet the member or staffer) the visitor’s biography and let them know if the visitor has performed good works on behalf of the university. Make absolutely sure that participants understand that they are to make no partisan statements and understand their role in reaching the objectives of the visit. If the visitor is an alum, make sure everyone knows that in advance.
Do NOT powerpoint the visitor to death. Build an agenda that includes moving from lab to lab or office to office and that intersperses presentations with the viewing of equipment, buildings, labs, etc. Whenever possible, explain programs with props rather than presentation slides. Involve bright, active, talkative students.
Members always like to have real discussions with students, possibly over coffee or lunch so that the setting is relaxed.
Also consider giving the visitor an inexpensive memento of the visit like a university ball cap, key chain, framed photo, etc.
Do not overload the visitor with material. For points and programs that you want to make sure they remember, have a one-pager that includes some white space and color. They typically get way too much information on these visits to absorb everything, so keep presentations and handouts as crisp, direct, and as brief as possible. Unless the person has a background in science or whatever other topic may be brought up, review presentations to assure they are at a layperson level.
If this is a member’s first visit to campus, and the main purpose is just to have them get acquainted, give a general overview highlighting the programs that make your institution stand out from the crowd, and emphasize how this serves the member’s constituents.
Plan to ask the member/staffer for help with something (don’t miss this opportunity) and plan to have that conversation behind closed doors with the proper university officials.
Always serve good food and build in breaks.
Be sure to follow up with a faxed thank you note from the president or other high official. Make sure to follow up, preferably with a personal visit to D.C., with the staffer regarding whatever help you have requested.