Can We Talk?: Tips for Communicating with Elected Officials

On the Telephone:

Prepare. Before you call, think through your position and list the points you wish to make during your conversation. If you are calling about a specific piece of legislation, know the number of the appropriate bill, its sponsor and its key points.

Be courteous. Realize that calls are sometimes taken by a staff member, not the actual legislator. Be courteous to aides and secretaries they can be a valuable ally. He or she is the gatekeeper to the person you want to reach.

Leave a message. After identifying yourself, tell the aide you would like to leave a brief message, such as: "Please tell Senator/Representative (Name) that I support/oppose (S.___/H.R.___)." Then state reasons for your support or opposition to the bill.

In Writing:

Use proper form.
Address your correspondence to The Honorable (full name): .0pt">Letters may be either typed or handwritten, as long as they are legible. Print your name and contact information clearly after the signature.

Be courteous and to the point. State your purpose for writing in the first paragraph of the letter. If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify the bill by number. Address only one issue in each letter and try to keep the letter to one page.

Back up your position. Use your own words and include specific examples from your experience when possible. Personal letters have a greater impact than form letters..0pt">

In Person:

Be prepared.
Your visit will be most effective if you are well-informed about both the legislator and the issue you are addressing. Know where the official stands and his or her voting record on the issues. Know the points you wish to make before you go. Back up your position with data and examples. Think about arguments against your position and be prepared to respond to them. If possible, bring printed information and materials that support your position to leave with legislators.

Be polite, positive and constructive. Speak calmly, logically and try not to get emotional or loose your temper.

Be brief. Legislators are very busy, so schedule meetings in advance, be on time and try to keep your visit short (15 minutes is a good length).

Be confident.
Your ideas are important. Remember, you are part of the constituency he was elected to represent.

Follow up.
Send a thank-you note after your meeting, possibly including a summary of the points you discussed. Also write thanks-you notes when legislators take an action you agree with.

--Natalie Walker Whitlock