Ways to Communicate

Communicating with a legislator is the crux of all advocacy efforts. In-person meetingsphone callsemails, and letters are all effective ways to reach out to your policymakers. However, each has its strengths and weaknesses. This section will help you decipher which is the best way to communicate for your specific issue.

Calling your Legislator

Sometimes legislation moves very fast through the House and Senate and if you want to weigh in on the issue, you need to act quickly. The best way to do this is by calling your Representatives’ and Senators’ offices and encouraging their action on a specific issue. While legislators can easily ignore emails and letters, it is difficult to ignore a ringing phone.

When you call an office, it is likely that you will speak to a staff member. Be sure to follow these tips to be effective:

  • State who you are and where you live/work
  • State why you are calling, be specific
  • Answer any questions truthfully
  • Thank the staff for their time and be polite

Meeting with your Legislators

Personal visits with your legislators are very effective when communicating an issue. On the Federal level, in-person meetings will usually occur with the education staff member. On the state level, meetings will usually occur with the legislator. These meetings are great to “set the stage” for future advocacy efforts.

For state representatives and senators, the best time to schedule a meeting is on Thursday or Friday, or when the General Assembly is in recess.

When you meet in person, keep these points in mind:

  • Schedule the appointment in advance - Contact the legislator’s office either by phone or email and schedule a meeting. Be sure to identify yourself and the issues you plan to discuss. Be flexible on your proposed times.

  • Do your homework - Research your legislator and the issues he or she supports. Also, come prepared with statistics and stories that support your advocacy efforts.

  • Be on time, flexible, and brief - Be punctual and patient for your meeting. Unscheduled meetings or appointments often pop up with legislators. It is possible that you will meet with a staff member instead of the legislator. Do not take this personally. The staff will inform the legislator of your meeting and share any materials with him or her.

  • Select a spokesperson - If others are attending the meeting with you, organize your discussion prior to the meeting so each person is covering a specific topic and the meeting has a natural flow.

  • State the purpose of your visit - After you exchange in some small talk, state the purpose of your meeting and remain on topic. If the legislator switches the topic, be sure to bring the conversation back to your issue in a friendly and productive manner.

  • Share your support documents - Walk the legislator through your materials. Highlight the key points and discuss why change is needed, what actions are needed by the legislator, and how this will impact the education of our youth.

  • Listen carefully and answer questions truthfully – Allow the legislator to share his or her insights or positions with you. If you do not agree, remain friendly and respond in a thoughtful manner. Do not argue. Answer all questions honestly, and if you do not know the answer to the question, say you don’t know and promise to find the answer.

  • Always say thank you and follow up - Thank the legislator and staff for their time and encourage any additional questions. When you get home, send a thank you note to your legislators and follow-up with answers to any questions.

  • Keep the conversation going - Continue to forward newsletters, articles, invitations, etc. to your legislators.

Letters

Never underestimate the power of a constituent’s letter! Letters expressing a given viewpoint can change a legislator’s mind and are particularly helpful if you are working with a group of colleagues or a coalition. In Washington and in Harrisburg, it may take a while for mailed letters to get to your legislators. Therefore, you may consider sending the letter to the member’s district/local office.

When you draft a letter, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep it short - by limiting your letter to one or two pages
  • Be positive and clearly state the reason for your letter
  • Establish yourself as a resource
  • Include contact information
  • Thank the member for his or her efforts

Email

Email has become the main way of communicating with legislators and staff. You may choose to send your letters or schedule your appointments via email. However, in some offices, particularly on the Federal level, emails may be directed to a general inbox that is checked rarely. To ensure that you are reaching an active email inbox, call the office and ask for the best email address to reach the policymaker. On the state level, most representatives and senators check their own email. However, on the federal side, knowing the email of the education staff member will be most effective.

When you send an email to your policymaker, keep these tips in mind:

  • Summarize views in the subject line
  • Keep content short and concise
  • Be positive
  • Establish yourself as a resource
  • Include contact information
  • Thank the member for his or her efforts

 


Some content was provided through the Association for Career and Technical Education (http://www.acteonline.org)
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