Delivering Your Message to Legislators
Armed with your powerful personal story, your specific ask(s) and a clear understanding of your legislator, you have a variety of options available for delivering your message. These include written communications, phone calls and face-to-face meetings. The following information describes how to get the most out of, and what to expect from, each type of communication.
One of the most effective ways to get your message across is to send a written communication (emails and faxes are preferred because postal letters must go through a security clearance process before delivery to legislative offices). To be most successful, written communications should be persuasive and to the point. The most effective format is a typed communication no longer than one page (or two “screens” in the case of emails).
All communications should request a specific action. State the request for action first and then provide supporting personal details – the reasons why you are requesting this action. Don’t leave out your personal story – personalized communications receive much more attention than do form letters/emails.
The Stroke Advocacy Network Action Center provides “action alerts” that contain the main asking points in draft forms that you can personalize and send to the appropriate contacts. Go to www.stroke.org/actioncenter to get started!
Written Communication Tips
Below is an outline to help you develop your own written communications. Feel free to include items that apply to you and skip those that do not.
- Identify yourself as a constituent or someone who provides services to constituents.
- Identify the issue(s) you wish to address.
- Identify your connection to stroke.
- Identify yourself as a member of National Stroke Association's Stroke Advocacy Network.
- State your views on the issue in your own words.
- Include a statement about how the legislator’s support will positively impact your life and the lives of others in your community.
- Clearly state what you would like the legislator to do.
- Thank the legislator for his or her attention to this matter, ask politely for a response and offer to be available for any questions.
Phone calls are a convenient way to communicate with legislators. You can find phone numbers for your elected officials on their individual websites, which can be found here: www.house.gov (representatives) and www.senate.gov (senators), or by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. You can also save yourself a long-distance call by contacting their district offices. Those local phone numbers will be located on their individual websites as well.
Here are some useful tips to make your calls as effective as possible.
Phone Call Tips
Have the basic facts in hand.
When calling about specific policy issues, always be ready to provide basic information, such as a bill number and title. Also be prepared to explain your position in your own words.
Keep your call brief and to the point.
Unless you’ve scheduled a phone appointment with a staff person (which may be a good option if you have a complicated issue to discuss), be prepared to deliver your message in a few minutes.
Identify yourself as a constituent and state the issue you’re calling about.
Again, legislators and their staff pay the most attention to those they represent, so be very clear that you are a constituent (by providing your address).
Express your opinion and the reasons you feel the way you do.
Be brief, but remember that your personal story matters!
Be specific about what you wish the legislator to do.
Calls that suggest a specific action are more effective than those that simply express a viewpoint.
Consider asking for the appropriate staff person.
Building a relationship with the staff person who handles healthcare or other issues related to your specific asks can help ensure that the legislator’s office takes your issues seriously. Ask to schedule a time for a more comprehensive discussion with that person.
Always ask for a response.
Politely ask for the office to get back to you with the legislator’s opinion on the issue – this sends the message that you are committed to this issue over the long term.
Meetings allow for an immediate and personal exchange of information and provide an opportunity to build rapport. The good news is that you don’t have to travel to Washington, D.C., for a meeting – you can often meet locally in district offices. You can find the locations and phone numbers for district offices on your legislator’s individual webpage, which can be found here: www.house.gov (representatives) and www.senate.gov (senators).
In-person Meeting Tips
Be aware of the legislator’s time limitations.
Don’t ask for a meeting unless you have something specific to discuss.
If there will be more than one advocate attending the meeting, decide who should deliver your message.
If possible, stroke survivors should be involved in these meetings. You might also want to include influential community figures who support you (particularly those who have a good relationship with the legislator). Once again, including a constituent is absolutely critical.
When requesting a meeting, fax or email a meeting request about one month in advance.
Include a brief description of what you want to discuss and list of attendees. You can usually find specific expectations/instructions for requesting a meeting on each legislator’s website. At the federal level, meeting requests should always be made in writing.
Follow up with a phone call about one week after sending the written request.
Your meeting may take place standing in a hallway or on the run to a vote and may be cancelled without warning. Legislators have to deal with sudden and dramatic shifts in their schedules on a daily basis.
Make sure you know who is in attendance.
Write down the names of any staff people you may need to deal with in the future.
Good In-person Meeting Approach
- State who you are and make the district connection.
- Explain why you’re there.
- Explain why stroke is important to you/share your personal story.
- When possible, refer to the briefing materials (but do not read them to the staff people).
- Ask if the legislator has taken a position on the issue (note that in many cases the answer will be “no”).
- Let them know that you’re available as a resource and that you’ll follow up to see whether there are questions and/or whether the legislator can support your position. Be sure to ask the best way to follow up (phone, email or meeting) and collect all contact information.
- Follow up after the meeting on any requests you made.