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Advocacy organizations represent the views of like-minded individuals when it comes to supporting or opposing bills but the most powerful voice still belongs to the individual constituent. It may seem as if one person cannot affect the legislative process. After all, conventional wisdom holds that the political process is corrupt and the government is broken.
However, these common narratives must be challenged. While government does not function perfectly, and it can sometimes be hard to make your legislators listen, effective communication strategies can increase the chances of your opinion having an impact. Our system of government is slow-moving and complex, but the legislation that makes its way through this process has the potential to fundamentally change the way our society functions.
Your voice does matter in this process, and the only way to make a difference is by using it to advocate for the issues you care about. There are two key types of ask: policy and relationship-building. People tend to think that elected officials pay attention only to those who contribute to their election campaigns. In fact, most legislative staff members who conduct most of the meetings with constituents do not know who has made campaign contributions.
Notwithstanding the influence of money in politics, it is important to recognize that you have power as a constituent—and that the power of constituency is valuable as you communicate with your elected officials. Sometimes, you may be in a situation where it is inappropriate to make policy-related asks. Say, for example, you have had a meeting with your legislator and he or she has indicated a willingness to think about what you have asked but will not be able to make a decision right away.
The following are some of the things you might ask your elected officials to do in order to develop stronger relationships with them:. Before you meet with your elected officials, you should take some time to learn about their interests so that you can frame your message in a way that is bound to get their full attention.
You can organize your findings in an Excel spreheet or other database and update and review it as needed. Here are five things you need to know before your meeting:. The fastest way to gather this information is to go online. It covers the current Congress as well as the three Congresses.
The Compassion Index includes links to these sites. For information on state bills, you can visit the main of a specific state legislature. Note: Federal bills are deated either House of Representatives H. Other forms of legislation include resolutions, t resolutions, and concurrent resolutions. The most important thing to remember in developing and delivering a message for your elected official is that you have something of value to contribute.
Your job in the meeting is not to present as many facts and figures as you can about your issue. Rather, your job is to make the issue relevant to the elected official or staff person. You can achieve that goal by telling a personal story. Think about it: There is some reason why you have decided to be an advocate on your issues of concern. It likely affects you directly in some deeply personal way.
That is the message you need to relay to your elected officials. They can get all the facts, figures, and statistics from fact sheets New to Upper Slaughter wants to meet people you or your organization prepare in advance of the meeting. What you bring to the table is a compelling story about the impact of policy issues on people that legislator represents. There is no way to relay everything you know about an issue in a minute meeting. What you really want to convey is that you know a great deal about what the issue means to people in the district or state.
Because legislative staff must, by necessity, work on a wide range of topics, they often turn to trusted outside experts for information. If you are an expert in your field, let the office know that you are available to answer any questions. You need to deliver your message in a way that will make legislators and their staff sit up and take notice.
In addition to the approaches noted above, here are 10 tips that will help your message stand out among the hundreds that pour into a legislative office every day:. When you walk into a legislative office, do not be surprised if it feels somewhat chaotic. This is why it is so important to prepare your talking points in advance.
The person at the front desk usually a staff assistant will greet you. Let that individual know you are there for a meeting and with whom sometimes your meeting will be with a staff person rather than your elected official.
You may be asked either to have a seat in the office lobby or, if there is no space, to wait outside. The staff assistant will let the person with whom you are meeting know that you have arrived and that person will come out to greet you and start the meeting. But I thought my appointment was with the senator. Never, ever indicate that you are disappointed to be meeting with a staff person. Having a good relationship with a staff person can make or break your cause. 9: Here is some reading material for you—our report. When meeting with a legislator or staff person, try to limit your leave-behind materials to one or two s, and include details on where this information can be located online, if appropriate.
8: How much of a campaign contribution did your boss get to vote against or for this bill? Not only is this question insulting, but it is also futile, as the staff person is unlikely to know. 7: I assume you know all about H. With thousands of bills being introduced during each legislative session, no staff person will be able to keep them all straight.
Always provide information on the bill title,and general provisions when communicating with a legislative office. If you were not able to get an appointment, it is acceptable to stop by, drop off some materials, and let them know of your interest in the issue. It is inappropriate to camp out in their doorway and demand that someone talk to you. Updates on your issue are fine, as long as they are accompanied by a request. 4: We have 10 or more people in our group.
Capitol Hill offices are generally tiny. If you have more than five people in your group, you may end up standing out in the hallway. Plus, having so many people talking at once can dilute the impact of your message.
Try to limit your group to no more than five. If your group is large, as a few people specifically constituents the responsibility of delivering the message. 3: What you are telling me cannot be right. Most staff and legislators will not lie to you.
They know that lying will get them in trouble. Sometimes they may see things differently than you do, but if they say that a bill is definitely not going to be considered on the floor, or that there is no such legislation, you should believe them. 2: What do you mean we have to stand in the hall? See 4. A request to meet in the hallway is simply an indication of space limitations. I just thought you would be interested in what I have to say. Legislators are elected to represent their constituents.
If you are not their constituent or you are not connected to their constituents, you are not relevant to them. Your time is always best spent working with your own elected officials and turning them into advocates for your cause. Because you will likely have very limited time in meetings with an official or their staff, it simply will not be possible to relay everything you want them to know in that very short period of time.
Plus, they likely will have questions about the issues you raise that you will need to answer. This usually happens for one of three reasons:. All three of these situations can be addressed with effective follow-up. Unless you are treated extremely rudely, do not bad-mouth the people with whom you met. It will inevitably get back to them, and they will not want to meet with you again or work together in the future. Even if you had a fabulous meeting, you should not expect an immediate response to your comments or concerns. Instead, make sure that you follow up with a thank you note or to the staff New to Upper Slaughter wants to meet people who met with you once you have asked what method of communication they prefer.
To keep the momentum rolling after your meeting, follow up by sending small communications throughout the year. If you or your organization was written up in a local publication or online, share that story, and tie it back to the specific request you had for your legislator.
Of course, there is a difference between making relevant contact every few months and calling often just to chat. While it is important to stay on their radar screens, it is imperative not to be a pest. Keep your communications short and purposeful and you will be looked at as a resource, not a nuisance.
As stated above, staff are usually not experts on all issues, and they often turn to trusted outside experts when legislation that affects their constituents is on the table. Let staff know if you have done research on specific subjects or otherwise have experience or expertise in a given field. Knowing that someone in the district really understands an issue can be very helpful, as they will know whom to call for details needed to make informed decisions. With thorough preparation, effective strategies for in-person communication, and appropriate follow-up, you can make a real difference in the legislative process.
Establishing and maintaining contact with your elected officials is a crucial component of effective advocacy, and has the potential to tip the scales in favor of legislation you support. How to Communicate Effectively with Legislators. Why advocate? What influences elected officials? Personal relationships: Friends, family, and staff members have a tremendous influence on the day-to-day decisions of elected officials. The message: What you say to elected officials is actually important! Latter sections of this document will help you develop a winning message.
The media: Media coverage of events will often have an influence on what elected officials talk about in hearings and introduce as legislation.
Personal interests and passions: All elected officials have one or more policy issues that they care about deeply. Effective advocates will identify those interests and then frame their message accordingly. Staff: It is critical to build good relationships and communicate effectively with legislative staff, as they are generally responsible for briefing elected officials about an issue and advising on what their position should be.
Knowing What You Want Why is it important to ask for something specific?New to Upper Slaughter wants to meet people
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