By Haley Newkirk, Kidney Advocacy Committee Liaison
This week, Congress began Recess and will be home in your state until September 6th. This will provide us the perfect opportunity to meet with our Senators and Representative in their district offices and continue to educate them about issues related to kidney disease.
Last year, I was able to meet with staff members for my Representative and both Colorado Senators over the course of a few months. Although I was not able to meet directly with the legislators, I found that their staffs were engaged and curious about the issues. One of the many benefits of these local meetings is that the staff really know the people and communities they work in. One staff member had spoken to a Denver man who had lost insurance coverage for his transplant medications that same morning, and she thanked us for helping her understand how critical it was that she help him find the resources he needed to avoid rejection and keep his kidney.
No meeting was quite like another. One staff member was a health aide, and we spent half an hour discussing specific medical issues in our state and improving supports for those affected. Another staff member was focused on public outreach and spoke with my NKF region’s Executive Director, Shannon Clark about NKF’s KEEP Healthy screenings and how to better engage the African American community. Bringing the big, broad federal initiatives close to home with our personal stories and those of our fellow constituents provokes real conversation and ignites legislators’ interests in real policy changes.
Teaming up made a big difference for me. I was fortunate enough to have Shannon come to all three meetings. Not only was she a great support for my first-timer nerves, she contributed very useful, relevant details about specific events and programs in our state. We were able to debrief and learn together from one meeting to the next, and it helped me build a relationship with my local NKF office that has stayed strong ever since.
I hope that you will join me this summer in this important opportunity to ensure that our legislators understand the impact their work in Washington, DC has on our lives in their home states—it’s easier than you think!
Tips on setting up a District meeting:
- Look at your legislator’s website (House/Senate) and locate the closest district office to where you live or work.
- Email their scheduler (often through their website) and ask to schedule a meeting with your legislator in their district office. Depending on the form, you may have the chance to briefly share a little about your personal involvement. If you have any problems, please contact NKF’s staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. They will be able to assist you!
- Let NKF’s advocacy team know once a meeting has been scheduled so that they can provide you with talking points on legislative priorities, fact sheets on kidney disease in your state, and other helpful materials. They can be reached at email@example.com.
- Work with NKF’s advocacy staff to let your local NKF office know about any scheduled meetings. If available, they may want to join you for meetings—but if they are unable to attend they still may be able to provide you with details about programs and events happening in your state or region, as well as providing some additional team support!
- Confirm your meeting a few days before the scheduled date.
Tips during your meeting:
- Be prepared with background on the elected official, thoughtful arguments, specific points, good data, and a clear agenda.
- Tell your personal story. You want to be remembered and they do want to hear your story. Limit your story to about 2 minutes, and explain why the policy issue you are there to discuss is so important to you personally and how the legislator can make a difference for you and others like you.
- Numbers are your friend. Legislators and their staff love statistics as much as a constituent’s story. How many people in your state have kidney disease or are on dialysis? How many are on the wait list? What is the cost of dialysis vs a transplant after the first year? NKF can provide you with all of the necessary information for your meeting.
- Keep it simple. They may not know much about or have real life experience with chronic kidney disease, dialysis, donation, and transplantation. Avoid acronyms, vernacular, and keep the language you use as basic and as non-technical as possible.
- Be respectful to the legislator and his or her staff members.
- Leave behind materials that reiterate the points you made in your meeting. NKF has a set of materials that you can use for this purpose.
- Leave your contact information so your legislator or their staff can contact you with any questions.
After the Meeting:
- Promptly follow-up with an e-mail to your legislator’s office to reinforce your comments. Thank them for their time and provide any additional information that you agreed to get to them. Use this opportunity to cultivate your relationship.
- Report to NKF to let us know how your meetings went. Did they ask any questions you were unable to answer? Did your Members voice their support?
Remember – you are a constituent and they work for you!
About Haley Newkirk
Haley is almost eight years post-transplant and an active advocate for kidney patients and families with the National Kidney Foundation. She and her fabulous kidney, Stan, enjoy mountain adventures, Colorado sunshine, and tacos.