Providing congressional testimony related to your nonprofit organization serves three main strategic communications purposes. First, you promote awareness of your organization. Second, you put the organization’s public positions on record. Third, you create relationships with lawmakers, establishing yourself as an expert in your field.
Testifying in front of Congress can be a smart strategic communications strategy for a nonprofit manager. In fact, it’s a tactic taught in strategic communications graduate programs; get your FAQs about a Master’s in Strategic Communication answered here if you want to become a public relations executive. With an advanced degree, you are ready to significantly raise the profile of your nonprofit by following these steps to successfully testify before Congress.
Contact the Appropriate Agency or Elected Official
Monitor the legislative calendar for upcoming House or Senate committee hearings related to your nonprofit’s mission. Contact a committee member and explain your organization’s mission, your expertise and your interest in offering testimony. As a fallback, if you can’t secure a place in the hearing, ask to offer written testimony.
Prepare Your Statement
Before the hearing, you’ll need to write a few versions of your official statement. Let someone proofread it before you submit it. Your written statement must be presented in the following three formats:
- Complete official statement. Present your complete statement to the committee 72 hours before the hearing. Provide a neat document with a line spacing of at least 1-1/2. Also, use a standard font, like Arial 12-point, so your document is easy to read. Type a cover sheet with the name of your organization, logo, physical address, telephone number, e-mail address, website URL, your name, your title and the date of the hearing.
- Opening remarks. Your opening remarks are a condensed version of your complete statement. It should be short enough that you can deliver the remarks within five minutes.
- Abbreviated opening remarks. The committee chairman may unexpectedly limit your opening statement to one or two minutes. Instead of trying to shorten your remarks on the fly, come prepared with an abbreviated statement.
Plant Some Friendly Questions and Promote Your Appearance
If you’re comfortable working with the legislative staff of a committee member friendly to your cause, submit a list of questions the committee member might ask you. Also, offer additional questions the friendly committee member may ask in response to challenge questions from a committee member hostile to your cause. Issue a press release about your testimony and, if you’ll be appearing on C-SPAN, provide the time of the hearing to your supporters on your website and through your social media channels.
Attend the Hearing
Most hearings follow the same general outline. You will:
- Present opening remarks. You can read from a piece of paper, but try to speak clearly and to maintain eye contact with the committee members. Ask the committee members to vote for your position and always end your remarks with the following statement: “Thank you, Mister Chairman/Madam Chairman and committee members, for the opportunity to appear before you today. I stand ready to answer any questions you might have.”
- Answer questions succinctly. Use honorifics like, “Mr. Chairman” or “Representative/Senator (legislator’s surname).” If you don’t have an answer, say you don’t have the information and you’ll provide it to the committee shortly. Write down what you need so you can follow up after the hearing.
- Remain courteous. An official hostile to your position may speak to you in a condescending way. Although you may respond in a direct manner, make sure to remain courteous. If needed, respond to hostile questions from committee members with a follow-up letter after the hearing.
Share Your Statement
You gave testimony not only to influence lawmakers but also to promote your nonprofit, so make sure your supporters know what you’ve accomplished. If you have access to an audio recording or a video segment of your testimony, then post the information online for your supporters and use social media to promote it. You can also post a PDF copy of your official statement on your organization’s website or issue a statement about the appearance. Finally, send a thank-you note to each of the committee members; invite them to visit your offices or one of your nonprofit’s worksites and see your organization in action.
Congressional testimony image by House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats from Flickr Creative Commons