for Meeting Your Legislator
Plan 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
Make an appointment … but don’t be
surprised if it changes. Legislators often have last-minute hearings
or committee meetings. Be flexible.
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
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 for them.
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
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
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
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 most.
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
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
Plan: 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 position.
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 turf.”
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 the
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
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
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 e-mail.
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.
Writing Printable 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 letter aggressively.
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 it.
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 large readerships.
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