Seven Steps to Building a Relationship With Your Congressional Delegation
by Paul M. Elvig, ICFA vice president, industry relations
(Note: As reported previously, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) is drafting a bill for the federal regulation of the death care industry that he plans to introduce into Congress in the near future. A rough "discussion draft" of the bill that has recently been shared with ICFA staff by Dodd's office contains provisions that would have a substantial impact on ICFA members if approved. For this reason alone, members are encouraged to act on the following course of action ASAP.)
Congress will soon adjourn for the election campaign. Early in January when Congress reconvenes we could be faced with all kinds of "good ideas" on how to fix the funeral and cemetery industries. They will come fast, first in committees and hearings, then possible floor action, and finally on to the White House. As sure as death and taxes, the calls will go out: "Call your congressman; call your senator!"
Trouble is, too few cemeterians and funeral home operators know a congressman or senator on a first-name basis. In fact, many can't even tell you their own congressman or senators' names, nor in what congressional district they live.
With the so-called "off-year election" season at hand, it's a great time to personally get to know those who will write laws, vote on laws and promote laws that could touch your business sooner than you think. Candidates are hungry to make friends, even hungrier for campaign contributions. This is your chance. Here are seven simple steps for "getting to know you":
1. Find out what congressional district you are in. In many states, your voter registration card lists the district number. We are talking congressional district, not legislative/assembly district.
2. Who is your incumbent congressman or woman? Who are your U.S. senators? Each congressional district has one member in the House of Representatives and each state has two senators. Learn what district your cemetery or funeral home is in -- it might be different from yours at home. All members of the House of Representatives are up for election this year; one-third of the Senate stands for election. Get to know them. Are they running for re-election?
3. Pick a candidate to support. It can be an incumbent or a challenger -- pick one. Same song, second verse, if a senator is up for election. If you already know this individual, great! If not, pick up the phone and introduce yourself. How do you do that? You can contact them at their campaign headquarters; learn the phone number by calling information or checking with party political headquarters.
Be straightforward: "Hi, I am your friendly cemeterian/funeral director and I would like to work on your campaign. I would like to have your sign in my yard/field/building I own. I like your record (in the case of challengers, 'your campaign issues') and want to donate $200." Believe you me, you will become friends fast. Contributions to federal races -- House and Senate races -- must be made with personal, not corporate, checks.
4. Ask to have lunch, breakfast or coffee with the candidate. When you do, talk about the candidate, the candidate's family, life and political goals, etc. Don't start lobbying -- save that for another day. Invite the candidate to visit your cemetery or funeral home to see the veterans' area, public assistance area or a special feature or anything else he or she might find interesting, something they might feel a connection with. Talk of people problems, not business problems.
5. "I would like to introduce you to some of my friends during your campaign. Would you be interested in a social hour in my home/cemetery/funeral home?" This is sure to get a quick response. If you are opening a new facility or presenting the public with a new feature, ask your member of congress to cut the ribbon or make the dedication speech. Whatever the case, be sure the candidate is your guest, not the guest of a committee or group that uses your cemetery.
6. Help with the campaign. Write a letter to the editor supporting the candidate. Send support cards to people on your Christmas list. Sign endorsement ads. If you really want to impress the candidate, offer to go doorbelling with or for the candidate -- it's fun, it really is! For lots of fun, offer to go sign-waving during rush hour. Be sure you are standing by the candidate.
7. If you are part of the candidate's campaign team (any of the above ideas will make you so), ask to attend the candidate's election night victory celebration. If he/she wins, your candidate will never forget your victory hug.
Sound simple? It is! Whatever your party leanings or activities, pick your candidate accordingly -- don-t be phony or try to be something you are not. Let your politics hang out -- the candidate will love it.
Now you are ready to pick up the phone when things go south in the next session of Congress. This will be the decade of congressional activism regarding our industries. Are you ready? Go for it!