10 Tips for Effectively Communicating with Legislators
No matter how you decide to communicate with your legislators (via fax, email, phone or personal visit), you need to deliver your message in a way that will make legislators and their staff take notice. The following 10 tips will help your message stand out among the hundreds that pour into a legislative office every day.
1. Establish Your Relevance
Be clear about how you are connected to the district or state your legislator represents. Your affiliation with the Stroke Advocacy Network is important but not as important as your connection to the “folks back home.” Always make sure legislators understand how the stroke survivor issues you’re discussing impact the people they represent.
2. Be Specific
Legislative offices often receive vague, unspecific comments like “health reform is very important.” Effective advocates will ask for something specific related to their position. This might include asking your legislator to cosponsor legislation (which is a way legislators can show their support for a bill before voting on it) or send a letter in support of a particular policy change. Information about specific asks that support the goals of the Stroke Advocacy Network are posted in the form of Action Alerts. Pending Alerts can be found here.
3. Prioritize Your Requests
If you ask for too many things without making your top priorities clear, the legislative office may not be able to identify how to spend limited staff resources to meet your requests. Let the office know what action needs the most immediate attention.
4. Share Briefing Materials
When you meet face-to-face with your elected officials or their staff, you will want to provide them with “briefing materials” related to the topic you’re discussing. The Stroke Advocacy Network can help you develop those materials. You can also bring a copy of a Stroke Advocacy Network Action Alert with you to their office and leave that behind as briefing material. Pending Alerts can be found here.
5. Be Polite
Whether writing, calling or meeting, you should always be polite. Treating the staff poorly will not further your cause. Even though you may be frustrated with the government, try not to treat every meeting as a confrontation.
6. Don’t Talk Badly About Your Opponents
Refrain from negative labels and try to grant credibility to opposing views. If you do so, legislative staff are more likely to believe that you have developed your position based on careful evaluation of the facts.
7. Be Patient
Do not expect an immediate response to your comments or concerns. In many cases, the issue may be one that the member has not yet formed an opinion about. That said, it is perfectly appropriate to ask when you should follow up. In fact, if you make it clear you’re going to follow up, they will be far more likely to focus on your ask.
8. Let the Office Know How You Can Help
If you have expertise related to stroke survivor policy issues, let the legislator and his or her staff know. They are always looking for experts on complicated health policy issues and you might be a tremendous resource for them.
9. Always Tell the Truth
Legislative staff turn to outside individuals for advice and assistance on important policy issues all the time. They must feel that they can trust you.
10. Don’t Talk About the Campaign with Staff
Most legislative staff get very nervous when people they are meeting with mention political campaigns. The laws against staff involvement in elections are very strict. Never suggest that you will make a campaign contribution in exchange for the staff person’s support of a legislative issue.