Take advantage of the August recess

By Joshua Habursky

Summer: It’s the time for cookouts, short sleeves, languid beach vacations—and hometown meetings with members of Congress. Yes, the August congressional recess is rapidly approaching, which means lawmakers will be back home from Washington to hear directly from constituents. For community banks, this is a can’t-miss opportunity to meet directly with legislators and press for needed reforms.

ICBA has a powerful team of lobbyists in Washington working on the industry’s behalf, but community bankers themselves are the key to the association’s legislative and regulatory efforts. When lawmakers have a question about the financial services industry or the impact of banking regulations, they should be comfortable turning to their local community bankers for answers.

Face time is essential in building and nurturing these connections. By setting up in-district meetings, attending town halls or inviting lawmakers for a bank tour, community bankers can build these relationships over time. Hosting a member of Congress for a bank visit is a particularly good opportunity to show lawmakers firsthand how government regulations affect community banks and the customers they serve. By personally walking lawmakers and their staff through the daily complexities and frustrations of the current regulatory environment, community bankers can help to frame their understanding of the urgent need to find solutions.

Numerous ICBA-advocated bills are pending in Congress and in need of a grassroots push, so here are some tips on how your community bank can set up and execute district meetings and bank visits with lawmakers.

Step 1 — Submit a formal meeting request
Start by visiting your lawmaker’s website. Many provide an online meeting-request form or outline their preferred method of setting up a meeting. If no submission form is available, use the contact information to email or fax the request to their office. ICBA offers draft meeting-request letters on the Be Heard grassroots webpage (icba.org/beheard).

Make sure you include your name and contact information (including congressional district), and mention any specific issues you would like to discuss, such as regulatory relief. After you submit your request, call the scheduler to confirm he or she has received it. Persistence is key; you might have to follow up a few times to successfully schedule a meeting. Contacting the office early and with all the necessary details will increase the likelihood of confirming the visit.

Step 2 — Secure the meeting
Over the following days or weeks, the scheduler will work with you to arrange a mutually agreeable meeting time. Reaffirm to the scheduler that you would like to host your lawmaker at your bank to demonstrate how it operates in the current regulatory environment and discuss how Congress can help. The more specific you can be about who will be in attendance, what will be discussed and exactly why you would like to meet with the lawmaker, the more likely the request will be approved.

Step 3 — Notify ICBA and your colleagues
As soon as you have confirmed a meeting with a lawmaker or one of his of her staff, please email all the relevant details to joshua.habursky@icba.org. This will ensure you have all the support and resources you need, including one-pagers on the top issues facing the industry, data on the community banking impact in your state or local district and even access to an ICBA government affairs representative to call into the meeting to discuss technical policy questions.

Additionally, please share the opportunity with your colleagues and state association. There is strength (and influence) in numbers. Personally, reach out to your fellow community bankers nearby and invite them to attend.

Step 4 — Conduct the meeting
Whether at your bank, a congressional district office or a town hall forum, this is your chance to make your case. Be patient and courteous but also confident, assertive and on topic. Illustrate the direct impact of specific legislation on the local community, do your homework, be prepared to answer questions and use social media to amplify your message.

Always close the deal by making a clear request of the legislator, such as cosponsoring or voting in favor of specific legislation, and send a thank-you note afterward. And never underestimate the value of meeting with a legislators’ staff members, who are a vital part of every member’s office and instrumental in shaping public policy.

Step 5 — Follow up with ICBA
Hosting a member of Congress exposes him or her to invaluable information about the unique issues that community banks face, but it is equally important to report back to ICBA with details of the meeting. For instance, perhaps the lawmaker requested specific information that could not be provided during the meeting. Maybe he or she agreed to cosponsor a bill and needs ICBA to reach out to legislative staff in Washington. ICBA’s online Congressional Meeting Report Form, which you can find in the Advocacy Toolkit section of icba.org/beheard, makes it easy to report the details.

ICBA is leading the fight on Capitol Hill to reduce the regulatory burden on community banks, but the association needs grassroots support to ensure Congress acts. The August recess offers the rare opportunity to literally bring home the debate in Washington for those who write the laws community bankers live by. By making the most of this occasion and using ICBA resources to set up a district meeting, community bankers can make a meaningful impact on our nation’s lawmakers.

Joshua Habursky (joshua.habursky@icba.org) is ICBA director of advocacy.