(Learn more about how to convey your ideas in our Messaging section)
Consider the following guidelines for letters. With federal lawmakers you want to email the letter to ensure faster delivery:
- Be clear and brief. State the problem simply and include only pertinent data to get your point across. Show that you have done your research and you know the problem well.
- Include the bill number and a brief description of the subject of the bill (if you are writing regarding a specific bill). Give the information up front to let them know what you are talking about.
- Discuss only one bill or one issue in your letter. If you have several issues, write separate letters.
- Set a sincere and polite tone in your letter. Do not be sarcastic, threaten, or whine.
- Make your letter personal.
For maximum impact, include these components:
- A brief statement (10 words or less) on the subject and bill number (if it applies).
- An introduction of yourself.
- A personal anecdote about how the bill will affect you, your family, and your community.
- Facts and data to support your position.
- An invitation to contact you to discuss the bill.
- A request for a reply, if you need one.
- A statement of appreciation for consideration of your position.
Meeting with Legislators
Think about employing the following tips when you meet with legislators (or their staff):
- Work with legislators on a one-to-one basis. Target those legislators who make policy or work on the issues you plan to address.
- Be concise and clear about your interests.
- Be a good listener. Hear what the legislator has to say about the issue. Respect the right of the legislator to disagree with you and vote against your issue.
- Offer to serve as a source of information to the legislator on your issue.
- Be polite and keep your appointment to the time you agreed on unless the legislator initiates spending more time.
- Provide written materials and follow up immediately on any commitment made during the visit.
- Don’t visit the same legislator more than once for the same issue unless you have something different to say.
- Don’t be sarcastic, critical, or threatening, or embarrass the legislator in any way.
- Don’t tell legislators how to vote. Instead, tell them how a given vote will affect their constituency.
- Don’t show anger or resentment toward a legislator who votes against your cause. Look for ways you can work together next time and make it happen.
- Thank the legislator for time and interest in your issue.
For federal policymakers, remember that meeting with their staff can be as important as meeting with the legislators themselves. Staff are typically those with the deeper expertise on specific issues.
Adapted from Making Your Case, written by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, Department of Administration.
Meeting with Administrators
When you start to develop your strategy, you will soon identify decision makers with whom you will want to meet, share your information and goals, and solicit help to achieve your goals. In many cases, your advocacy will be at the administrator level at the department of social services rather than at the legislation level.
When administrators are your target, your first step is to set up a meeting. Send a meeting request with the purpose of the meeting and include a list of individuals from your group who will attend.
Prior to the appointment:
- develop an agenda to guide you through the meeting and help you stay focused
- include a clear statement of the problem and your proposed solution
- identify the role each person from your group will assume at the meeting, such as one person acting as the primary spokesperson and managing the agenda, another person acting as a data person (providing either personnel, statistical, or professional background information), and a third member taking notes during the discussion
Share your agenda with the officials when you arrive at the meeting. They may also come with their own agenda. When possible, try to keep your discussion on topic, but listen carefully to what others say to learn their perspective and how you might influence them. Advise the officials from the beginning that the results of this meeting will be shared with others. In fact, put everything you do in writing.
Before ending the meeting, ask when you will hear a response. Remind administrators that you want to work with them on your issue, but make it clear that you are determined to move forward on your issue. Depending on how receptive they are, you may even let them know that you’ll pursue other options (such as going to your legislator or the media) if you can’t find a way to work together.
Consider all offers from administrators. If you are invited to sit on a committee (commission, task force, blue ribbon panel, etc.), make sure it’s the right fit for you. Joining such groups can be a great way to build relationships or gather background information, but it can also delay action or take time you don’t have.