Last month, I had the pleasure of accompanying Reclaiming Futures National Executive Director Susan Richardson and her colleague Donna Wiench to Washington D.C. to meet with a targeted group of elected officials and policymakers. Together, the three of us met with administrators at U.S. Department of Justice, staff at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and other public officials.

As Reclaiming Futures is one of our nonprofit clients, my colleague Lori Howell and I used three rules to help Susan and Donna get meetings with the groups and individuals who might be most influential and important to the focus of their work.

But once we got the meetings secured, how did we prepare for them–and even more importantly, what did I advise them to do afterwards?

Here are four rules I helped Susan and Donna follow while we were in Washington, DC–four rules you, too, should follow to run a successful meeting with policymakers at any level of government.

1. Have a Plan

Outline the structure of the conversation well in advance. This should include your introduction, a description of your organization, and a story about someone you’ve helped.

2. Know Your “Ask”

Define your “asks,” the specific outcomes you want. When our clients struggle with this I encourage them to answer this question: when everybody leaves the room what are the top three actions you want to happen? Examples might include a letter of support for a grant, a visit by an elected official to your organization, or insights into upcoming funding opportunities.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

Rehearse your introduction, stories, and, now that you’ve defined them, your “asks.”  Those who invest time in rehearsal have more confidence, sharper delivery, and better results after a meeting ends.

4. Nothing Happens Without Follow-up

Your preparation will make a big difference, but the real work begins when you return to your office. Email thank you notes with 24 hours. Deliver on any promises you made and follow up with people on the steps they said they would take. Don’t get discouraged if you need to email several times before you get a reply. Policymakers are busy and will welcome your persistence.

What has been your experience in meeting with public officials and keeping them involved in your work after an appointment? Share your lessons and tips in the comments below.