Determining When to Write, Call or Meet

There are a variety of ways to communicate with government officials. Ideally, you should attempt to schedule meetings with key officials to introduce yourself and your organization/coalition. Such meetings allow for an immediate and personal exchange of information, and provide an opportunity to begin building a rapport with government officials.

While face-to-face meetings can be the most effective way of communicating, they are also the most difficult to arrange. For this reason, meeting requests should be reserved for critical times and priority issues.

The most popular form of direct communication with public officials is a written letter. For urgent or immediate issues, telephone calls, faxes and e-mails can quickly inform the concerned official about your position and convey important information. These forms of communication have limited effectiveness unless they are part of a focused campaign and/or followed up with letters from your organization supporters and members.

While all communications should be direct, concise, simple and polite, there is no single method that is appropriate for all situations. The form of communication your organization uses to contact public officials will depend on:

  • Timeliness and importance of the message
  • Number of points you want to communicate
  • Amount of information per message to be conveyed
  • Type of information
  • Number of people conveying the message
  • Need for face-to-face contact and an exchange of ideas with officials
  • Your organization’s available resources

Now is Your Chance:

Meeting with Elected Officials

Meeting with elected officials in person is an opportunity to make personal contact with decision-makers and convey your position in a persuasive and animated manner. A lobby visit allows you to tell your Representative what you think about a certain issue or bill and ask her/him to take positive action.

Here are some suggestions for a successful lobby visit:

Before the Meeting:

Request a meeting in writing with specific times and dates. Follow up with a call to the scheduler or secretary to confirm the meeting.

Make sure to convey what issue or bill you would like to discuss.

Decide on talking points to express your most important ideas.

Set a goal for the meeting. Do you want the Representative to vote for or against a bill or introduce legislation? During the Meeting:

Be prompt.

Keep it short and stick to your talking points.

Take the time to thank the elected official for, e.g., past votes in support of your issues.

Provide personal and local examples of the impact of the legislation.

Be honest and don’t claim to know more than you do about an issue. You don’t have to be the expert, just a committed and active constituent.

Set a deadline or timeline for response.

After the Meeting:

Write a thank you letter to the legislator.

Send any materials and information you offered.

Follow up on deadlines and if they are not met, set up others. Be persistent to develop your key messages:

  • BRAINSTORM. Think freely and jot down all pieces of information you wish to communicate.
  • SELECT KEY MESSAGES. Identify the most important ideas. Repeat the process until your list is down to three items.
  • IDENTIFY SUPPORTING DATA. Review your brainstorming ideas and background materials for information that provides support to your key messages.