US Congressional Representatives and Senators do want to hear from their constituents, and what you think and share with them can influence their stance on a policy matter for which they have not yet taken a position.  And there are many ways to get your message across, including phone calls, letters, social media, and in person.  The Society has provided a step-by-step guide on Meeting Your Member of Congress; here are suggestions on other forms of communication.

The complexity of an issue and timing determine whether it is best for you to call, write a letter, or send a message via social media channels. 

Phone Calls

If a vote on a particular issue is imminent, calling is probably the best bet.  Messages communicated by phone calls should be simple, such as “vote yes on x bill” or “please vote no on amendment x.”  It is best when communicating by phone to only address one issue. 

You can find contact information for your elected officials here.

Written Communications

When an issue is being considered by a committee or the full House and/or Senate but a vote is not taking place in the next few days, letters sent by email are a good way to share your viewpoints with elected officials and their staff members.  Email arrives faster than mail, and computer systems allow staff to manage email communications more efficiently, thus staff prefer it. 

When writing, the ABCs of advocacy are important: be accurate, brief, and clear.  Clearly state what you want the legislator to do, such as take a specific position on a bill or offer an amendment.  Also, make it personal. Start the letter by identifying yourself as a constituent and a scientist (for example) and explain why the issue matters to you (and should matter to them!). If you have facts about the district or state relevant to your position, include that information.  This personal information should be at the beginning to draw the reader in.

The Biophysical Society has an online action center to make sending letters easy and often provides drafts you can use. It is important to personalize these. It can be two to three sentences, but it signals to the reader that the writer is invested in the issue and it also gives them a hook.  Personal stories are very effective at making an abstract policy issue relevant to a staff member of an elected official.

To compose your own letter, select “Find officials,” check the individuals you would like to write to, and select compose message.

Social Media

Using Twitter or Facebook can be a good way to engage members, and unlike a letter, this form of communication provides a public forum that provides more visibility and makes it very hard for a Congressional office to ignore.  Simple “yes” or “no” messages work well on social media, as do links to position statements of organizations to which you belong, and thank you messages. Like what your Congress person did?  Give them public recognition with a Twitter or Facebook thank you.  On Twitter, lead with the staff member’s twitter handle. On Facebook, go to the legislator’s page to post your message. 

These are an effective way to deliver your message. As elected officials, members and their staff meet with constituents regularly. You don’t even have to come to Washington, DC, to make this happen; you can schedule a visit at the local district office. 

Setting up the Meeting

  • Use the Find Officials search tool to identify your Congressional Representative and Senators. This tool will also provide you with a web address and phone numbers.
  • Visit your elected official’s website to see if he/she accepts electronic meeting requests through the site. Fill out the form and submit. 
  • If they do not have an online form, call, then email for an appointment. 
  • Tell the staff member you speak with what you wish to meet about and when. 
  • It is best to call two to three weeks prior to the time you would like the meeting to occur. 
  • You will most likely have an appointment with a staff member in the office; this person is just as important as the elected official. He/she is tasked with knowing specific issues inside and out and are the eyes and ears of the Congressman/woman. 

Preparing for the meeting

  • Do your research. Review and print out materials, such as these state information sheets prepared by FASEB and  Research!America showing research funding in a particular district or state. Bring these sheets to your meeting to leave with the staffer.
  • BPS Staff are happy to provide you a specific issue sheet and compile online resources for you. Please let us know if we can can be helpful. Contact BPS Staff.
  • Arrive early and expect to wait a few minutes before the meeting.
  • Know your message points; practice them out loud. Don’t be too technical, assume you are speaking to educated non-scientists. 
  • Have an action item/ask--know what you want the Congressman/woman to do.  
  • During your meeting, use a combination of both data and stories of individuals to explain the importance of your issue. 
  • Make a connection: brother-in-law worked on your campaign, our university’s physics department is the largest in the state, our work could help find a cure for…; 
  • Be responsive, offer to follow up after the meeting with more specific information about questions the member of Congress has. 
  • Ask to take a photograph with the individuals with whom you meet.

After the meeting 

  • Send an email thanking the staff member or Congressman/woman after the meeting. Summarize what you discussed and what you want the Congressman/woman to do.  Provide any follow-up materials requested. Use this as an opportunity to reinforce your message. Here are sample thank you notes.
  • Check in periodically with an email. Let them know if there is something happening at your organization or in your lab that might interest them.
  • Thank the Congressman/woman and/or staff for meeting with you on social media.  Attach the picture. Tag the official or post on their feed.
  • Contact the the Biophysical Society and let them know how the meeting went.

Another great way to meet your member of Congress and get your issues on their radar is to attend a town hall meeting and ask a question. These are scheduled throughout the year; sometimes in person and sometimes via phone. Find a town hall meeting near you. You can also check a specific member of Congress’ Facebook page or Twitter feed for upcoming events.

Be prepared with your question in advance of the meeting.  When the time arises, be prepared to introduce yourself, your affiliation, and ask your question succinctly.   

Here are some questions you can ask:

  • I am a researcher funded by the National Institutes of Health. Do you think funding for medical research should be a federal priority?
  • Biomedical research faces deep cuts. Members of Congress seem to agree these cuts will be devastating, but they can't agree on how to avoid them. Do you understand how these cuts will be harmful to this community and your constituents, and what are you planning to do to protect the NIH?
  • Can I count on your support for increasing funding for fundamental scientific research?
  • President Trump proposed a budget that would cut the National Institutes of Health by 20 percent. I am outraged. How are you going to help protect funding for medical research?
  • I am a researcher that relies on the Department of Energy's National Labs to conduct my research.  These labs are slated for significant cuts by President Trump's budget proposal.  Can I count on you to fight to protect funding for these invaluable cost-effective national resources?