How to Get Elected Officials to Listen
Feel like elected officials never listen? Want to know the best way to get their attention (and support?) With hundreds of millions of communications coming into the offices of elected officials, it can be hard to get their attention (much less their support). Follow these simple ideas for effective communication with elected officials at the local, state and federal level.
- Figure out what you want: Elected officials and their staff expect you to ask for something specific. Be sure to ask them for something they can actually do, such as sponsor legislation or meet with you in the community.
- Explain why you're relevant: You are relevant to elected officials because you live, work or serve people in the areas they represent. You must demonstrate a constituent connection.
- Understand your audience: If possible, try to learn something about an elected official's position on your issues (if any) before you contact them. They may already be strongly supportive!
- Frame your message: It also helps to know something about the issues the elected official feels strongly about, even if they aren't the same as your own. Sometimes you can frame your message in terms that make sense for them. For example, if you want to talk about increased funding for public transportation with an elected official who is very interested in health care issues, you should consider starting with the health benefits of transit.
- Develop a compelling story: Elected officials and their staff hear facts, figures and statistics all the time. What you bring to the equation is a real, live human perspective (you are human, aren't you?). Let them know how the policies they are considering directly impact their constituents. And whatever you do, don't assume that a form letter or petition will capture their attention.
- Choose a method of communication: If you have a short message, such as "vote for this bill," a phone call would be appropriate. Longer more complicated messages should be presented in writing or in a meeting.
- Follow-Up! Most advocates do not follow-up on their requests. If you are one of the few who does, you will get more attention (and potentially more support) from your elected officials.
- Not sure who represents you? Try www.congress.org for information about your federal, state and local reps.
- Try sites like www.house.gov and www.senate.gov for information about your representatives in the U.S. Congress. You can also look up bills they've introduced at www.congress.gov
- Every state legislature has a website. Try a Google search to find yours
- Find resources on effective advocacy at www.advocacyguru.com
- Try to be as positive as possible. Even if you're frustrated with government, a hostile approach probably won't get you very far.
- Ultimatums rarely work. For every person who says "I won't vote for you if you do X,Y or Z," there's another person who says the same thing on the other side.
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