GUEST BLOG: Building Relationships: The Art of Increasing Individual Influence

Have you ever spent time calling the D.C. office of a member of Congress for the purpose of expressing your support for or opposition to a piece of legislation, only to get a recorded message telling you no one is available to take your call and to leave a voicemail, and then hearing another recorded message saying the mailbox is full?
Who hasn’t?

The Heritage Action Sentinel Program provides activists with superior resources and tools to influence federal legislation: continuous updates of legislative schedules, specific legislation and policy research and analysis, user friendly action alerts that include a summary of the facts in support of a conservative policy position aligned with specific pieces of legislation; all geared toward helping activists influence legislation and hold their members of Congress accountable.

Boy, that’s a mouthful. And activists, by definition, are busy folks. So, in a world of boilerplate emails and canned voicemail recordings, when everyone and their brother are putting in their two cents worth, how does the overloaded individual activist increase the scope and impact of their ability to influence?

There is one resource that can only be developed by the individual that is a guaranteed influence multiplier and is a lot more fun than speed dialing all afternoon. That resource is building personal relationships. It goes without saying that it is easier to build relationships with some Congress critters than it is with others. It does help if you agree with them. Same goes for members of their staff.

Yet, the most productive relationships are the ones that can withstand some disagreements. Believe it or not, if your goal is to build, not burn bridges, you have the advantage. Building a bridge advances your position with a savable lawmaker. Burning a bridge is a retreating tactic, intended to disengage.
Your advantage lies in three simple facts:

Fact #1: Members of Congress are politicians.

Fact #2: If they want to continue being a member of Congress, they need to be reelected.

Fact #3: Members of Congress and their staff’s jobs are contingent upon #2.

When there is disagreement – and there will be because there are no perfect politicians – the practice of explaining your opposing position with facts, logic, reason, and civility does more to enhance your ability to influence when an opportunity presents itself than all the expressions of agreement, head nodding in unison, or declarations of mutual admiration. And just as you want the opportunity to make your case, you must return the favor.  That mutual respect will enhance your ability to influence members of Congress on votes when they are undecided, leaning, persuadable, or open to input.


Here is an example of how to turn a perceived loss of influence into a positive:

Let’s say over the years you have cultivated a personal relationship with your member of Congress and their staff. Suddenly, because of redistricting, your Representative becomes your former Representative and you have a new Representative and staff and you become a new constituent living in a new area in their district. Bummer, right? Not necessarily.

First, BECAUSE it is based upon a personal relationship, you still have influence with your former Representative. Just because you are no longer a constituent doesn’t mean you’re no longer a friend. Continue to nurture that friendship.

Secondly, in building a relationship with your new Representative, you have a unique advantage simply BECAUSE you are a new constituent living in a previously uncultivated area in the newly shaped district. Prior to the redistricting, your new Representative had no, zero, nada footprint in your neighborhood. Believe me, they are conducting a serious outreach campaign in your area. But, Mr. and Mrs. Overworked & Overloaded Activist, you cannot just sit back and wait for a knock at your door. You have to plan and execute your own infiltration campaign with the goal of building relationships. Here are some tactics:

  1. Take advantage of your normal activities in the community that intersect with your Representative and staff. Never miss an opportunity to introduce yourself. Always ask staffers for their card.
  2. Ask about the new office in your neighborhood, even if you already know where it is. If you don’t immediately receive an invitation to visit the office, say you would like to stop in, just to check it out and meet the staff and ASK if it would be OK? If the response is anything other than “Absolutely! Please give me (or so-and-so) a call to set up an appointment,” make a note to avoid that staffer in the future.
  3. Follow up with a phone call ASAP.
  4. If you haven’t been able to make contact out and about in the community, make a cold call to the new office and ASK if it’s OK to stop by.
  5. Set an appointment!
  6. Do a little research.
  7. Show up on time, bring a dozen assorted donuts.

If your experience is anything like mine, you will be pleasantly surprised with your reception. They actually acted like they were glad I walked in their door, and it wasn’t just because I brought donuts.

Roger Whidden, a Heritage Action Sentinel, resides in Wesley Chapel, Florida.

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