What to do and what not to do
Writing, calling and meeting are all effective means of getting your message across to your legislators. Legislators are impressed when they receive just five “hits” on one topic because most people don’t bother to take the time to tell them what they think. Legislators are even more impressed when the messages come from the people who live in their own voting district. Your message can change the way they vote.
Written messages in order of efficacy:
- A simple hand-written personal letter explaining that the arts are a vitally important part of your community, of your family, and of your life.
- Computer-typed and printed letter signed by you.
- A personal email.
- A personal fax.
- A generic letter.
- A generic postcard.
- A petition
Delivering the Message
Writing reminds your elected officials that their decisions have a direct impact on you, their constituent. Postal service, e-mail, and faxing are alternative ways of delivering letters to your legislators; the same rules of etiquette and clarity apply.
Calling is a very effective way to contact elected officials when you must get your message across quickly.
Meetings with elected officials are a key element in your advocacy efforts. Legislators and other elected officials have busy schedules so it is important to get your message across quickly. Legislators often have more time to meet with constituents when the legislature is not in session and they are in their home districts.
When Writing Elected Officials
- Use the correct address and salutation, e.g., Dear Minister or Dear Premier. For members of theLegislative Assembly, simply use Dear Mr. or Dear Ms..
- Include your own full name, home address and telephone number.
- Type or write your letter clearly. If your letter is not easy to read, it could be discarded. Be sure to include your return address in the letter or e-mail.
- State your position in the first sentence (or subject line on an e-mail). Keep your message focused.
- Be brief, but include enough information to explain why you are writing.
- Use your own words and stationery. Legislators feel that personal letters, rather than form letters, show greater personal commitment on the part of the writer, and therefore carry greater weight.
- Be specific. If possible, give an example of how the issue affects your community.
- Know your facts. It is important to be accurate and honest in your letter. You can seriously hurt your credibility by offering inaccurate or misleading information. If you can, find out how your legislators voted on this issue or similar issues in the past.
- Be timely. Contact your legislator while there is time for him or her to consider and act on your request. Respond quickly to AABC’s Action Alerts.
- Be persistent. Do not be satisfied with responding letters that give a status report on the bill, promise to “keep your views in mind,” or otherwise skirt the issue. Without being rude, write back and ask for a more specific response.
- Say thank you. Everyone appreciates a pat on the back. If, however, your legislator did not support your position, let him or her know that you are aware of that, and explain why you think he or she should have decided differently. It might make a difference next time.
- Use a negative, condescending, threatening or intimidating tone. You will only alienate your legislator and cause bad feelings that may hurt your case.
- Harp on the economic argument. Tax returns to government are often more lucrative when coming from sources other than arts: a soccer team, for example, or a sports facility.
When Calling Elected Officials
- Ask to speak with the aide handling your issue. The aides have the legislator’s ear, and are often very knowledgeable about the details of your issue. Be sure to record the name of the aide with whom you spoke in case you need to contact the legislator again. You will also have the name of another person to thank.
- Know what you want to say and BE BRIEF. Use your time wisely and get your main points covered as close to the beginning of the conversation as possible.
- Leave your name, address and telephone number. This will enable the aide to get back to you with information on the legislator’s position. Let him or her know that you want a reply.
- Follow up your phone call with a brief note of thanks for the conversation, a concise summary of your position, and additional information if it has been requested.
- Bluff. If the legislator or aide asks you a question that you cannot answer, say that you will get back to him/her and then do the appropriate follow up.
When Meeting With Elected Officials
- Call first for an appointment. Explain the purpose of your visit.
- Be respectfully tenacious and do not get discouraged. Legislators have a lot of things competing for their time. Set up a meeting with your legislator at his or her legislative office. If your legislator is unable to meet with you, schedule an appointment with the aide handling the issue.
- Arrive early.
- Be articulate. The meeting should be brief and concise. If you are with a group of people, designate one spokesperson.
- Be direct by asking at the end of the meeting, “Will you support my cause?” His or her answer will help determine your future advocacy efforts.
- Write a thank-you letter promptly after your meeting.
- Report to AABC on the results of your meeting.
- Drop in or show up unannounced.
- Assail those individuals or organizations that oppose your issue. Attacking a legislator can only hinder your efforts.