Tagging your legislators on social media may seem like the easiest way to get their attention, but reaching out directly via email, letter, or phone will create more lasting results. (Note: If you reach out by telephone, you will most likely speak to a staffer for the representative and not the representative personally.)
Here are some tips for doing so:
BE DIRECT & CONCISE
Even if there are many issues you want to discuss with an elected official, be aware that elected officials are often pulled in many directions at once and it is better to use your limited time with them to bring up only one issue. Explain what the issue is, why it matters to you, and why it should matter to them and the community as concisely as you can. You don’t have time to provide extensive analysis, criticism, or requests.
BE TIMELY & GRAB THEIR ATTENTION
Like the news media, elected officials often need or prefer to have a timely reason to take up an issue. This can be a commemorative date, current events, publication of a new report, or something else similar. All of these are useful in making an elected official pay attention to the point you are making.
Remember, even if the reasons for contacting the official seem obvious to you, most elected officials are dealing with countless issues and constituent concerns at any time. Grabbing their attention right away is crucial.
USE YOUR OWN VOICE
If contacting an elected official in connection with an advocacy campaign, the group running the campaign will often have a script or talking points to use. However, if you are taking the initiative to reach out on your own, including a personal connection to the issue at hand will help your messaging stand out. Why is the issue important to you? Why do you have the experience or expertise to be listened to, more than other constituents?
If you are motivated to write or email because you found out about an issue from an organization such as HAF — but there isn’t already a script prepared — make sure to put any talking points you’ve gathered from that organization into your own words. Never copy and paste them verbatim from an article, blog, or briefing paper. Pick one or two that you feel you can speak to personally and write about those.
BE FIRM & POLITE
Using your own voice is not the same as angrily ranting, even if deep down you feel that way. Your elected representatives are supposed to listen to you, but a strong viewpoint politely expressed is more likely to be considered than one expressed in anger. You don’t have to be a professional-quality writer or speaker to have your viewpoint considered, but take time to ensure your viewpoint is expressed well and calmly.
OPINIONS MUST BE BACKED BY FACTS
When expressing your perspective, it’s best to make sure you have some documented statistics, citations, or other references to back up your viewpoint. Even if you are a recognized expert in the topic you are discussing, make sure to show you are not simply expressing your own opinion or feeling on the matter. Everyone has an opinion, but a persuasive opinion is backed up with facts.
After you speak with any elected official, a common response will be, “What do you want me to do about this?” Make sure you have an answer!
If your goal is making your representative aware of an issue, the answer can be general, such as considering your viewpoint in future policy decisions. But something very specific, such as a bill, resolution, or campaign to support, oppose, or introduce, is ideal. Whatever you are asking, make sure the reasons why are clear and succinct.
HOW-TO CONTACT YOUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES OR PUBLIC OFFICIALS
Don’t know who represents you at the state and federal level? Use these links to find out and get their contact information: