It’s hard to top the high-level access granted to Olivia Pope, the glamorous chief “fixer” on ABC’s hit TV show “Scandal,” who breezes in and out of the White House the way the rest of us come and go at our neighborhood coffee shop.
While Pope-style access might not be easy to come by for most of us, with the proper preparation, you and your nonprofit colleagues can gain access to public officials at all levels of government, from city council, to the U.S. Congress, and yes, like Olivia Pope–even those at the White House!
In the last year alone, we’ve coached leaders from Playworks, the Health Impact Project and other nonprofits that met on Capitol Hill with U.S. senators and representatives and congressional staff. And, we’ve set up appointments for Reclaiming Futures with federal agency administrators in Washington, DC, and at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Here are three rules that we encourage nonprofits to follow when seeking meetings with public agencies, elected officials, and the White House.
1. Know What You Want
What’s the reason for your meeting? Goals for the nonprofits we helped this year included asking for a letter of support for a federal rule change, building a long-term relationship with a congressional office, and getting a better understanding of a federal agency’s grant-making process.
Most people–even the busiest of policymakers–want to help you. When you have a clear goal and share it in your request for an appointment, you make it easier for others to say yes.
2. Find the Right People
Knowing what you want will help you identify the public offices and officials that matter. Now that you’ve identified your “ask” figure out whose goals overlap with yours and reach out to them.
It makes perfect sense, for example, to meet with your local Members of Congress about a letter of support for your nonprofit’s federal grant application. But generally don’t bother with offices in congressional districts where you don’t operate as local constituents will always take priority.
3. Look for Common Connections
It never hurts to say who sent you. Mentioning the mutual contact who suggested you see a policymaker can add more credibility to your request.
And don’t forget to check LinkedIn profiles, website biographies, and other online materials of the people you want to meet. You may discover that you have contacts in common you didn’t know about.
What has been your experience working with public officials? Share your lessons and tips in the comments below.