Advocacy is an important way to make your voice heard, but often individuals are unaware of how to advocate. The following tips can help when contacting legislators and government officials no matter the topic. Remember, even one phone call, letter or in-person meeting can have an impact!
Tips for phone calls:
- Identify yourself: give your name and city and explain that you are a constituent with a concern.
- Be flexible: ask to speak to the elected official directly, but if that isn’t possible, speak to his/her aide. Aides do a lot of research for legislators and often recommend what they should do.
- Identify the issue: have notes handy with the specific bill number or title and any statistics you want to convey. State your position clearly and directly.
- Be polite but firm: do not threaten with the power of your vote. If the elected official disagrees with you, don’t hesitate to politely push back.
- Ask for information: elected officials have lots of valuable information that they are more than willing to share. Ask when action is expected on your issue. Ask about the opposition and what impact they are having.
- Ask for support: ask if the elected official already has a position on your issue and how he/she intends to vote.
- Ask friends to make phone calls: one call is powerful and five is even more so.
Tips for writing letters:
- Be Brief: boil your message down to one page or less and attach any detailed information, charts, etc. on separate sheets.
- Be Direct: tell the elected official what action you want him/her to take, such as introduce legislation, cosponsor a bill, vote for (or against) a bill in committee, or on the floor. Ask him/her to respond to your letter. Be sure to include your address and phone number.
- Be Civil: don’t threaten, insult, wisecrack or name call.
- Don’t Overdo It: don’t write too often. Make your letters timely so your legislator can take positive action to help.
- Personalize: use your own words. You don’t need to type the letter – handwritten letters are very effective if you have legible handwriting. Avoid form letters and postcards.
- Focus on One Issue: your letter will have the most impact if you speak out on one issue at a time.
- Have the Facts: the more facts you know, the better. Refer to legislation by title or number. Cite experts to back up your arguments.
- Compliment: elected officials are human and like to be recognized and thanked for their work. Always write a thank you note if the elected official does what you ask.
Tips for writing letters:
- Be a good listener and hear out what the official has to say.
- Be concise and clear about your interests.
- Offer to serve as a resource.
- Respect the right of the official to disagree with you and vote against your issue but try to establish a common interest
- Provide written materials – one-page handouts are effective.
- Follow up on any commitments made.
- Thank the official for his/her time and interest in your issue.
- Go over the allotted time unless it’s obvious the official wants to spend more time with you.
- Criticize people on a personal level – talk about the issue.
- Ask for more than one meeting with the same official on the same issue unless you have something different to say.
- Tell the official what he/she “should” do. Put your message in the form of a request and explain how his/her action will affect constituents.
- Burn your bridges. Show no anger or resentment toward officials who vote or act against you. You may need their support on another issue! Say “maybe you can help me next time‟ and make sure the next time happens!
Advocacy tips taken from Area Agency on Aging Association of Michigan