What is communication?
It is a two-way process of sending and receiving ideas, opinions and information. For your message to be received by your legislator, you need to follow a few guidelines to help you communicate effectively.
Methods to communicate
First consider the method of communication you would like to use.
- Is the message urgent?
- Do you want a written record for review and reference by the recipient? How personal should it be?
- Should you telephone, fax, email or write a letter to the legislator? How about a face-to-face meeting?
Your choice should be determined by the timing and length of the communication and your own personal relationship with the legislator.
- This is the most effective method of communicating, but also requires more planning than the other methods. It is important not to rush into issues before you have made a positive impression.
- Emphasize that you are a constituent from “back home” and recognize that legislators are usually back in their home districts on Fridays when the legislature in not in session. Try to meet at his/her convenience.
- If you cannot arrange a meeting, write a personal letter.
- Use personal or business letterhead with typed or word-processed copy. Sign your name above the typed signature.
- Identify who you are, your position and your subject in the first paragraph. Explain how this will affect the patients you serve, not yourself or your profession. If writing about legislation, be sure to refer to the title and bill number.
- Be brief and to the point, preferably not more than one page.
- Express yourself using unique language and avoid using clichéd phrases or sentences that make your message seem like a template. Messages that appear generic are more likely to be overlooked or met with generic responses.
- Be sure the return address is on the letter and the envelope. Too often envelopes are thrown away.
- Be constructive. Write how the bill could be improved if you disagree with its language or purpose. Be reasonable. Do not ask for the impossible or threaten.
- Be specific and use verifiable facts to support your ideas. Your own personal experience works great as supporting evidence.
- Thank your legislator if they please you with a vote on an issue. Everyone appreciates a complimentary letter and remembers it.
- There is no need to become a constant pen pal. Remember quality rather than quantity is what counts.
- Address letters to state senators and representatives correctly.
- Email communication is not necessarily high touch. Your message will be more personal on your own letterhead and signed in your own handwriting, so use that approach first.
- Try to save email until you are on a first-name basis with your legislator and there is a need for speed in your communication.
- A fax has a more personal feeling than an email.
- A fax is appropriate if there are copies of documents or other photocopied items that must be communicated quickly, especially if you are responding to a request for information.
- Fax messages should be typed whenever possible.
- Use the telephone only if you have already established a good relationship with your legislator and know them well. It is usually not a promising idea to rely on a telephone call alone. You should follow up with a fax or email.
- Remember in some cases, the staff is the pipeline to the legislator. Do not neglect that relationship. Write a note of well wishes at the start of each session. Send a thank-you note any time they assist you. They work hard and are rarely thanked. They will remember you for acknowledging them.