Communicating your message to Legislators

Patience and persistence are the primary characteristics of good legislative advocates.

Building relationships and credibility are key and can be accomplished with time and effort by following these dos and don'ts:

  • Do your homework -- know your district, the issues and your legislators.

  • Develop rapport over time. You do not need to be chummy with a legislator, but you do need to be respected.

  • Treat the legislator with the dignity and respect you expect for yourself.

  • Work with a legislator's staff. Staff members do research, draft bills make recommendations on amendments and develop expertise in areas in which their legislator cannot devote the time.

  • Develop strong grassroots support. The more people there are forming the consensus that you speak for, the more impact you'll have.

  • Don't be rude, offensive or argumentative. A good guideline to follow is "Will the legislator invite me back or avoid me in the future?"

  • Don't give an ultimatum. Learn to accept rejection without having it destroy a relationship; this week's enemy is often next week's ally.

  • Don't ever resort to name calling. If you use strong negative labels for those who oppose your proposals, you may alienate them forever.

  • Don't expect to change a legislator's mind immediately.

  • Don't get frustrated. We can't expect victory overnight. We often have a difficult task and have to learn to rejoice in small victories.

  • Don't take a shotgun approach. Focus on your board's priorities for the district, rather than trying to accomplish everything at once.

  • Don't forget that legislators are faced with hundreds of bills and thousands of constituents, but only a few are also elected officials with policy-making responsibilities. You are both accountable to many of the same constituents.

Building relationships and credibility with your legislator can be difficult if you don't communicate effectively what it is you want. This section provides a number of tips on phoning, writing and visiting with your legislators and their staff.

Communicating in person

Communicating by phone

Communicating by letter/fax 

Keys to effective advocacy