Communicating with Legislators
Calls, Letters, and Emails
Focus on one or two issues. Explain your position clearly and concisely. Attach additional material (if applicable) and your telephone number so the staff can call you if needed. Share your personal experience or use real-life examples to illustrate your points.
Town Hall Meetings
- Check your legislator’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed to find out the date and location of any upcoming town hall meetings. For members of Congress, go to house.gov or www.senate.gov and enter your ZIP code to be directed to the appropriate website. If no meeting information is listed on the website, call the local office in your town/state.
- Prepare yourself with talking points, fact sheets and other material that will be useful to fully understand the issue. Bring printed copies for the legislator.
- Write down one or two brief questions that you would like to ask your legislator. Focus on a specific subject or piece of legislation.
Day of Meeting
- Introduce yourself to the staff and offer your business card or other contact information. (You may be asked to sign in.)
- Ask if you need to sign up in advance to ask a question.
- Do not include long introductory statements in your questions, just state your name and the city where you live.
- Call, write or visit your legislator to thank them for having the town hall meeting. If applicable, schedule a follow up appointment to discuss next steps on your issue.
Most members of Congress and state legislators schedule meetings with constituents. Call the local office to find out when your elected official will be in town and ask for a meeting.
If you are trying to set up a meeting on behalf of a group, be sure to let the scheduler know how many people you expect to attend. Ideally it should be a relatively small group representing a diversity of constituent groups and interests.
Keep in mind that the schedule of an elected official is frequently changing, and you may end up meeting with staff rather than the legislator. Staff members may in fact be more familiar with the details of an issue and may have more time to spend hearing your views.
Preparation for Visit
- Do research to understand the legislator’s interests, positions and voting record on the issue you are advocating for.
- Anticipate the kinds of questions or concerns that will be raised and have clear answers ready.
- Know your message.
- Prepare materials to leave behind with the legislator or staff, such as fact sheets, infographics or a memo summarizing your position(s).
- All attendees “briefly” introduce themselves and their agency, and what their involvement is with the issue(s). If there are more than 3 people in the meeting, determine who will open and close the conversation. Note: Most meetings last approximately 15 minutes.
- Clearly describe the issue(s) and your position early in the discussion.
- Explain your position with facts and use personal stories when possible; make sure legislators understand the personal ramifications or benefits resulting from their actions.
- Avoid overloading the legislator with too much information. Keep the conversation simple and polite.
- Show openness to counterarguments.
- If you don’t understand something, ask for an explanation.
- Ask the legislator to take some specific actions: sponsoring a bill, or voting for/against a pending measure.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so, but offer to get an answer.
- Thank them and ask when and with whom you should follow up.
After the Visit
- Write a thank you letter summarizing priority points.
- Maintain ongoing communication with legislators and their staff through letters, emails, or calls.
Letters to the Editor
- Your letter to the editor should be short and concise – no more than 300 words.
- Include your name, address, email address and phone number – newspapers will not publish anonymous letters.
- State why you are writing the letter and the problem or issue that concerns you. Write why it is important and how it affects you.
- Make a general recommendation of what should be done, by whom and when. Example: “I believe our state legislature/Congress should pass legislation this year to improve access to healthcare services for more vulnerable and underrepresented populations.”
Build a Coalition
- Identify other supporters to amplify your voice. This may include other healthcare providers and specialists, medical societies, education groups, parents and/or caregivers.
- Organize a monthly meeting to discuss topics that are important to your cause.
- Set up information-sharing networks so that your efforts can be coordinated.
- Identify a leader or lead organization to facilitate and encourage this coordination and decide who will take responsibility for disseminating information quickly and organizing meetings.
- Set clear policy objectives and identify key decisionmakers, the action or decision you want them to take, and a timeline by which you want them to act or decide.
- Organize telephone/email/social media campaigns – Share time-sensitive information with supporters through phone calls, email, and social media.