Meeting with Elected Officials and Their Staff
A Primer on What to Say, Wear, Bring, Expect and How to Follow-Up
General Meeting Format:
Simply go around the room and say your name, who you represent (if applicable, club, state, region, shop) and the town where you live. Keep it brief.
Some talking points to chose from:
- We are the International Mountain Bicycling Association, IMBA. We're the national voice of mountain biking.
- We build trails and keep trails open for mountain bicyclists or off-road bicycling.
- Mountain bicycling is a very popular sport - on most trail systems we are the #1 or #2 user group (behind hiking).
- Last year, 43.1 million people participated in the sport and 7 million consider themselves avid enthusiasts (according to the Outdoor Industry Association 2003 Participation Study).
- We have 80,000 people in our grassroots network between individual members and our 550 affiliated bike clubs.
- We have chapters in 50 states and about a dozen other countries.
- Annually our members contribute close to 1 million hours of public service.
- Most often, it is our clubs who are out building and repairing community trails.
- We work on shared-use trails - trails for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians.
- Customize your introduction - Give them an idea of where mountain bicycling is popular in your state and/or congressional district (member numbers, tourism revenue, bike shops, bike clubs, etc.).
- Given that 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, now is the time to encourage cycling and build trails for recreation.
- Many of our clubs also run youth programs to encourage kids to get on bikes (15 percent of children are overweight or obese).
- Obesity costs our nation $117 billion annually in medical costs and loss of productivity.
What to Say: Know What Bicycling Brings to Your Community and State
Elected officials and their staff want to know why IMBA and mountain bicyclists are an important constituency. One of the first questions you may get asked (or should be ready to offer) is how many IMBA members/mountain bikers are in their district? Other useful information to know is: How many bike shops and bike clubs are there in your area, and what is the economic impact of bicycling in your region? Are their tourism hot spots where cyclists bring more money to the area for races or festivals? Is there the potential for this to happen? How many hours of volunteer public service does your club contribute every year?
Before you schedule a meeting, do a little research to learn (as best you can) these numbers:
- What does cycling bring to your state? (Some state departments of transportation have done studies to determine the total amount of revenue road and off-road cycling brings to the state's economy. For example, in Colorado, CDOT reports that cycling brings $1 billion of economic activity to the state annually the sum value of all jobs, shops, and tourism revenues)
- Number of mountain bicyclists in elected officials district (city, county, region, state)
- IMBA members/ clubs/ shops in your state (club/shop names at imba.com)
- IMBA members in congressional district
- IMBA members conduct one million hours of volunteer work annually. Try to estimate your best guess of the number of hours your state clubs conduct.
When you meet with elected officials or their staff, you should be prepared to ask for their help on two or three specific issues. The goal is to keep your message simple, easy to understand and not confuse staffers by asking for too many things. Pick two to three "asks" between federal, state and local recreation, resource and access issues.
What to Bring
Less is more. Elected officials and their staff are overwhelmed with handouts and reading material, and half of what they receive is immediately discarded. Resist the urge to bring them too much information (they probably won't read it). A copy of your club's most recent newsletter or a one-page handout that summarizes state issues is appropriate. Also, if you have a specific local schwag item (like a T-shirt, socks, or a hat) it is nice (but not necessary) to bring an item along.
What to Wear
Congressional staffers dress professionally. Most wear suits or dress slacks and ties. We suggest you wear similar clothing but certainly don't rush out and buy a suit if you don't have one. Dress pants, dress shoes, a button down shirt and a tie will work just fine. Women will want dress pants or a skirt. Iron your shirt, polish your shoes - first impressions make a difference.
Follow Up (Short and Long Term)
After the meetings are over, you will want to write a hand-written thank you note and/or an email to the staffer thanking them for taking time to listen to our issues. It is a small gesture that means a lot and is expected. Further, it gives you an opportunity to remind them of your issues and what you are working on as a group.
- Write a thank you note.
- Subscribe the staffer or elected official to your club newsletter.
- Make sure you provide additional information they asked for in the meeting.
- Invite the local field staffs to a group social ride (create a fun, non-intimidating event that will introduce staffers to mountain biking).
- Invite the local field staff to a trailwork day.
- For your largest trailwork day of the year (National Public Lands Day, National Trails Day, etc.) invite the elected official (and the media) to help do some trailwork. Ask them to address the group.
- If the Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew is in town, make sure to invite the elected official and their staff.
- Offer to include an article from the member's press office in one of your newsletters and suggest a topic or offer to ghost write it.