Good communication is the key whether you are visiting, phoning, or writing your legislator. A successful advocate will often use all of the following methods.
Face-to-face meetings have the most impact. A constituent from an elected official's own district can have a significant impact on a given issue. The key to a successful visit is to be prepared. Get to know your legislator before an important issue needs to be addressed. It is very important to establish a good working relationship with your legislator. When meeting face-to-face, be prepared to effectively and clearly communicate a timely and specific message. Schedule your visits when the governing body is not in session. It is often most convenient to meet with Federal legislators in one of their district offices. Congressional representatives typically return to their districts during recesses, on weekends and between sessions. Call the district office to schedule a visit.
It is advantageous to get to know the district office secretaries, administrative assistants, and other staff. Call the day before your visit to confirm your appointment. If you are part of a delegation, keep it small enough (3-4 people) for easy communication of ideas. Leave your business card, a one-page outline or summary of your main points, and any background materials. Follow your visit up with a written thank you note.
In your initial visit it is important to identify which staff members handle education issues and who will be your ongoing contact. Make sure they know who you are, what organizations you are affiliated with, what your concerns are, and why they are important to the legislator's constituents. Communicate what you want from them on specific issues and legislation.
Telephone calls are easy and appropriate. Regular contact with staff is possible and desirable, but be direct and concise. The best time to call is to ask for support before a hearing or floor vote or to convey urgent local or national concerns.
See Contacting Your Legislators by Telephone.
Email, Fax, Telegrams, Mailgrams
These are fast, easy ways to communicate with legislators when the need for action is critical. Use e-mail to inform your representative of your organization's activities and concerns and to voice your views. If you get a response by e-mail, make a note and use this form of communication more frequently. Generally, the same guidelines apply as with writing letters to Congress. Limit your use of faxes to short, urgent messages and to provide late-breaking information. For Telegrams and Mailgrams, use Western Union's nationwide toll free number: 800-325-6000. Low rates are available.
Letters are an effective form of communication and have the greatest impact when used with other personal contact. Letters elicit responses. Letters have significant impact on legislators because your letter is considered to represent other less vocal constituents. They are also a concrete statement of your viewpoint, which the legislator may use to help make decisions about their stance on an issue.
See Tips for Writing Legislators.
Utilize your local media. Policymakers watch their home town media closely. Letters to the editor, editorials, news stories, and news making events will usually be noted by the representative or his or her staff. Send copies of such stories along with a note to your representative.
Communicating with the Media
The News Release
Resources for Contacting Policymakers and Following Legislation