for Meeting Your Legislator
your meeting. Decide whether you are
going alone or with a group of constituents. If
you go as a group, decide who is going to lead
the meeting and what each person is going to contribute
to the discussion. This will help eliminate awkward
silence or repetitive messages and will ensure
that you hit all the key points you want to cover.
You will likely have only 15-20 minutes for your
meeting, so plan accordingly.
Make an appointment … but
don’t be surprised if it changes. Legislators
often have last-minute hearings or committee meetings.
Know your audience. Do a little
research about your legislator if you don’t
know him or her. Once you’re in the door,
begin by finding something personal that you have
in common with the legislator. Engage in a little
“small talk” to break the ice—but
keep it brief. If at all possible, find out his
or her position on the issues you’re focusing
Define your message. Tell your
legislator that you are visiting to ask for his
or her support for your issue. Plan two or three
observations or arguments that get at the heart
of your position.
Meet in your home district. Meetings
in the home district are often less hurried than
meetings at the Capitol, and they provide the
“home turf” advantage. Find out when
your legislator is in his or her home district
and schedule your appointment then, or if your
workplace illustrates your position, invite them
to visit you. If that’s not possible, travel
to the Capitol as an alternative.
Invite comments and questions.
Engage your legislator in dialogue. Don’t
worry if they ask you something you don’t
know the answer to—simply tell them you
don’t know, but that you’ll find out
State only what you know. Don’t
overstate your case, fudge the facts, or guess.
It helps to provide your legislator with brief,
written information for further reflection. Make
sure it contains the local angle for your district,
if at all possible.
Ask for a commitment. If you
don’t ask your legislator for action, you
won’t see any. If they decline, encourage
them to think about it, and let them know you’ll
keep in touch.
Follow up. Send a handwritten thank-you note to
your legislator. Let them know that you appreciate
their time. If you promised to get them additional
information, provide it or let them know how and
when they can expect to receive it.
Visit more than once. Over time,
visit with your legislator to continue to discuss
issues and make requests as you have them. Be
sure to be a reliable source of information for
them on your issue by delivering what you promise,
avoiding overstatement, and communicating clearly.
Tips for Writing Your Legislator
by stating that you are a constituent.
If you voted for the legislator, let them know
that as well. Make sure you write your return
address on the envelope, so that the legislator’s
office staff knows immediately that you are a
Personalize your letter. Research
consistently shows that handwritten letters have
the most impact. In making your case on the issue,
use personal examples to further distinguish your
Use the news. Watch for news
stories in your local community that you can use
to illustrate your point. Use a local news item
as a springboard for your issue.
Local, local, local. Make a strong
connection between the issue and your local community
that the legislator represents. Again, use local
examples that illustrate why your issue is important
and why your position is a strong one.
If the legislator has supported your issues
in the past, acknowledge this—but
don’t take it for granted that the support
will continue. Give reasons why the legislator
should continue or intensify his or her support.
Show restraint. Keep your letter
brief—one to one-and-a-half pages at the
Persuade a like-minded friend, family member,
or colleague to write a letter as well. Again,
quantity is critical. Legislators pay attention
to issues when they believe that many of their
constituents care about that issue.
Follow up. In the letter, ask
your legislator for a response. To get a better
picture of your legislator’s position, consider
following your letter with a phone call or visit.
Report your letter. When you’re part of
a grassroots lobbying effort, your participation
is helpful only if the people mobilizing the effort
know about it. Let WECA know you wrote the letter,
and what you intend to do to follow up.
Communicate more than once. Again,
quantity is as important, if not more important,
than quality in grassroots advocacy. One letter
will not gain influence. As you monitor the issue,
communicate with the legislator through phone
calls, additional letters, e-mail, or visits to
ask for specific support or action as appropriate
to the process.
Calling Your Legislator
Before you make the call, plan what you are going
to say. Your phone call will be very brief, so
keep your message simple and to-the-point. Take
a moment to think about it—you might even
want to make some notes—and you’ll
find that your call goes more smoothly than if
you were to call “off the cuff.” Know
your request (for example, “Please support
Senate Bill 5”) in as few words as possible.
Message: After identifying (and
possibly writing down) your request, think about
a key point or personal story that supports your
Call: Make the call. If your
legislator is in your home district on specific
days or on weekends, call them when they are in
your home district. There is more time and less
distraction, and your position as a constituent
will be enhanced if you are talking on “home
Staff or Message: You may not be able to reach
your legislator if you are calling his or her
office during the legislative session. Be prepared
to talk to one of the legislator’s staff
or to leave a message instead. Make sure you get
the staff person’s full name, and treat
them with the same respect.
Constituent: Begin by stating
that you are a constituent. Legislators are most
responsive to the people who can keep them in
office—their constituents. If you voted
for the legislator, mention that as well.
Persuade: Get to the point. Following
your plan, state the reason for the call. Try
to get the legislator to state his or her position
on the issue, and try to persuade them using the
points you developed.
Thank: If the legislator agrees
to support your issue, thank them. Regardless
of their position, thank the legislator for his
or her time. Let them know that you will be tracking
Recruit: Recruit a like-minded
friend, family member, or colleague to make a
call as well. Particularly with phone calls, quantity
is critical. Legislators pay attention to issues
when they believe that many of their constituents
care about that issue.
Report: Report your call. When
you’re part of a grassroots lobbying effort,
your participation is helpful only if the people
mobilizing the effort know about it. Let WECA
know that you made the call, and report anything
of importance that the legislator said.
Call Back: Call more than once.
Quantity is as important, if not more important,
than quality in grassroots advocacy, because a
high number of calls indicates to a legislator
that many people in their district care about
an issue. As you monitor the issue, call back
to ask for specific support or action as is appropriate
to the process.
E-Mailing Your Legislator
E-mail has changed the way we
communicate and in many ways has replaced other
forms of communication, such as phone calls or
handwritten letters. This technological tool is
fast, cheap and efficient. However, because it
is a fast and relatively informal means of communication,
many legislators view it as less credible than
other methods. If you use e-mail to communicate
with your legislator, you should do so in the
context of an ongoing relationship in which you
use other methods as the foundation of your communication.
To craft an e-mail with impact, follow these steps:
the subject line of the message, state that you
are a constituent. Most legislators have
their staff sort and respond to their e-mail, and
this strategy will increase the likelihood that
your e-mail is read.
State your request concisely. View
your message as different from an electronic letter.
Again, e-mail is less formal and much more brief
than traditional written communication. Craft your
message accordingly—keep it tight and short.
Provide personal examples and local context.
Use principles similar to those in letter-writing,
but in a tighter format. It’s always best
to personalize your message, instead of using generic
Pursuade a like-minded friend, family member
or colleague to send an e-mail as well.
Again, quantity is critical. Legislators pay attention
when they believe that many of their constituents
care about that issue.
Follow up. Again, because the impact
of e-mail varies widely from legislator to legislator,
be sure that you are using other methods to communicate
with your legislator as well. Follow your e-mail
with a phone call, handwritten letter or visit.
Communicate more than once. As with all
other forms of communicating with your legislator,
view your e-mail as part of an ongoing relationship.
Keep in touch and tuned into your legislator and
his or her position on the issue.
Letters to the Editor
to the editor can be powerful vehicles for influencing
or inspiring public debate, making the case for
your issue, or responding to related events. In
addition, elected officials always read the opinion
pages of their local paper, because it gives them
an idea of what their constituents think. The trick
is to write a letter that the editors find compelling
enough to print. Use these tips to write a letter
that is more likely to get printed.
on the hot stories. Find ways to tie recent
news stories in with your issue. Open your letter
to a reference to the recent event, and then quickly
build a logical bridge to your issue.
Keep it brief. Most Letters to
the Editor should be under 250 words. Edit your
Be clear. This may seem obvious,
but a surprising number of letters that don’t
get published just don’t make sense. Avoid
jargon, use common vocabulary, and let a few friends
or colleagues review the letter before you send
Use word cues to underscore your point.
For instance, preface your major conclusion with
“The important thing is …” If
you have research that makes your case, preface
the facts with “Research shows that …”
Don’t overlook neighborhood weeklies and smaller
papers. Often these publications have more
room for letters, and community papers have very
Include a call to action or solution.
If you are illustrating a need or making a case
for a specific action, include a line about what
people can do to help.
Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.
If you or your organization are involved in work
that addresses the issue, include that in your letter.
Be passionate, but not poisonous.
There is a difference between “fire in the
belly” and righteous indignation. Avoid sarcasm,
and if you’re very angry, cool off a bit before
sending a final version.
Use local or personal angles. All
grassroots strategies rely on the “local”
angles and the “personal” angles in
an issue. Include this perspective to illustrate
why readers should care about the issue.
Try meeting with editorial boards.
The editorial boards on newspapers often meet with
community members, and sometimes will write an editorial
based on information they receive from these meetings.
Ask for a meeting with your local paper’s
editorial board, make a case for your issue, and
ask them to support it with an editorial.
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