Building Relationships with Policy Makers - Organizing a Site Visit

Inviting policy makers to visit your afterschool program is a powerful way to help them understand the value your program brings to the community.  In fact site visits have had a definite impact for many afterschool programs.  Read about several examples in this site visit case study.

Below are suggested steps, a timeline and a sample schedule for the event. Check the Congressional schedule to see when Members of Congress will be on recess and back in your community; typically Members return home around all major holidays and for a summer recess.

 
Step 1: Find the home district address and phone number for your elected officials. Enter your zip code in the "Contact Congress" box on the left. (You also find contact information at www.house.gov/writerep or www.senate.gov.) Most Senators and Representatives have more than one district office. Select the office closest to you. If you do not have access to the Internet, look in the blue government pages of your local phone book.

Step 2: Identify a few dates during the next Congressional recess when you could host a tour of your program. Using the date that is most optimal for you, write an invitation letter based on the sample provided in this packet. This will be helpful to have on hand when you call the district office. You can find a sample invitation here.

Step 3: Call the district office. Tell the person who answers that you would like to schedule a tour of your afterschool program for the policy maker. You may be connected with a legislative aide or a scheduler.

Try for the top. Ask if the policy maker could attend a tour during the next Congressional recess. Provide options for dates and times if your first selection does not work. Be sure to mention that staff and parents will be on hand for the visit and offer to invite media as well. Point out how your program relates to the policy maker's interests (literacy, improving academic achievement in public schools, keeping communities safe by decreasing juvenile crime, helping working families, etc.). Offer to send your "Invite Letter" and more information about the program and who will be at the visit. Encourage the policy maker to bring staff members. Establishing a relationship with staff is equally important, especially when you need a quick quote or response.

Be flexible. If a policy maker is not available, see if a staff person can make the visit instead. If you are successful with the policy maker, keep in mind that elected officials' schedules can change without notice. Several days before the visit, call to confirm the event and be prepared to reschedule.

Mail or fax your personalized invitation letter. Be sure to send along a program profile, brochure or some background materials about your program.

Step 4: Before the visit. Identify youth, parents, program staff, school officials and community partners who would be convincing spokespeople for your program. Ask them if they could be available for the visit and give them any background material you have on the policy maker so they will feel comfortable meeting them. Share the basic schedule for the visit and clarify their roles. Make sure to invite your school's principal and consider inviting school board members. Send a media advisory to invite press and prepare a news release for the day of the event. (Go to the Program Toolbox, Media or see Lights On Afterschool how to get press for tips and samples.)

Step 5: The visit. On the day of the visit, be sure that someone waits outside the building to greet and direct the visitors to the right location. Be sure to have program brochures or copies of a program profile on hand. You may want to make copies of any articles, youths' essays, parent letters, awards or other documents that demonstrate the community's support for your program. Be sure the policy maker gets to hear from the youth. Let the policy maker ask the youth questions or facilitate a discussion about what youth gain from the program. Ask parents to share their perspectives on the program's value; have your principal talk about students' increased attendance and improved behavior; invite community members to comment on how the program keeps kids out of trouble.

Event Case Studies: Click here for PDF file

Sample Schedule

3:00 p.m.
Policy maker arrives at the program and is greeted by the program director or other lead host.

3:05-3:15 p.m.
Lead the policy maker on a tour of the facilities. Let them see what activities the youth are engaged in.

3:15-3:30 p.m.
Afterschool snack time! Let the policy maker enjoy a snack and talk with the children about their favorite parts of the program. Ask the kids where they would be if they did not attend afterschool or what their friends do after school.

3:30-3:45 p.m.
After the snack, facilitate a discussion between parents and policy makers. Ask the parents to explain how the afterschool program helps their families.

3:45-4:00 p.m.
Ask the principal or superintendent to talk about school-wide improvement attributable to the afterschool program. For example, ask the principal to show the policy maker the school's improved assessment scores. 4:00 p.m. Thank you and goodbye!

Step 6: Send a Thank You letter. See the sample Thank You letter.

Suggested Timeline

Work backward from the date of the policy maker visit to make sure you are prepared. Use the suggested timeline below as a tool to help you plan. Allow at least one month between the invitation and the actual visit to be sure you have enough time to coordinate guests and schedules.

 

 

Time Prior to Visit

Task

1 month

Invite policy maker

3 weeks

Invite parents, community members, school officials, youth

2 weeks

Develop schedule for the day; identify roles

1 week

Finalize program agenda

3 days

Call policy maker's office to confirm visit

2 days

Invite the media (Go to Program Toolbox, Media or the Lights On Afterschool area for tips and samples.)