UCR

Governmental and Community Relations



Communicating Your Message To Legislatures


If the issue is in any way related to UCR, contact the Office of Governmental and Community Relations to liaison between you and the legislator.

WRITING AN EFFECTIVE LETTER

This list of helpful suggestions will improve the effectiveness of a letter to legislators:

Do:

  • Address them properly in writing.
  • Write legibly.
  • Be brief and to the point, and if possible, keep the letter to one page.
  • Include key information using examples to support your position.
  • Address only one issue in each letter.
  • Mention the specific bill in question, if possible.
  • Use your own words and avoid the appearance of a form letter.
  • Use your own stationery.
  • Give your reasons for supporting or opposing a bill.
  • Be courteous and reasonable.
  • Make sure you include your address and telephone number and sign your name clearly.
  • Send your letters before action is to be taken.
  • Use correct grammar and short sentences.
  • Thank them for their consideration.

Do not:

  • Be long-winded.
  • Adopt a righteous tone.
  • Be rude or threatening. Remember that you may be asking for a favorable vote in the future.
  • Mention more than one bill in a letter, if possible.
  • Forget that relatively few letters can often have impact. A few short letters carry much more weight than one long one.
  • Remind the legislators you are a tax payer.
  • Apologize for writing or taking valuable time.
  • Be vague or deceptive.
  • Write only to those lawmakers who either agree or disagree with you.
  • Send carbon copies of letters to other legislators. Do make them all look like originals.
  • Use form letters.
  • Even hint that you think something is sleazy or dishonorable about the art of politics - even if you do feel that way.
  • Assume that every legislator is an expert on every issue.

MEETING GUIDELINES

After you become informed on your issue, it is critical to communicate your message effectively so that it inspires results. The following pages outline the main principles necessary to ensure that your issue is not only received clearly, but is also acted on.

PREPARING FOR A MEETING

It is crucial to remember that the representatives and his/her staff most likely are not experts on your issue. Therefore, the issue must be presented in layman's terms, and be broken down into simple components. To ensure you will make the most effective use of your time with the representative, fine tune your message so that is follows a simple format:

Be informed about the elected official's history on the issue. What is the elected official's position on the issue you are pursuing? Has he or she continually supported the issue you are interested in, or has the legislator generally been opposed to the issue? The answer to this question will go a long way in determining how you approach the legislator on the issue. "Speaking to the choir" requires different tactics than if your audience is hostile or disinterested. Making use of the resources available to you makes this a manageable task.

Learn useful facts about individual legislator, (special interest, influence among colleagues) his/her committee assignments, and other official roles. Identify potential friends, foes, and coalitions. You can begin by looking at the biography of the legislator and his/her voting history. There is an abundance of information on the Internet. A good place to start for federal voting records is the Library of Congress' Role Call of Votes. Some legislators even have their own web sites where they may provide such information.

Make sure your research reflects how the issue affects the representative's district. A representative's district is his/her main concern, and it is considered a matter of courtesy among representatives to allow one another to handle matters affecting their constituents. Thus, it is recommended that you approach your own representative first, before engaging other legislators on an issue.

Know whom supports/opposes the issue. Also, be able to succinctly explain the basis for their position.

Know the facts your opponents will use. Always try to use your own facts, but be prepared with facts that refute those of your opponents.

Simplify your request for the representative. Simplify the task for the member by doing as much of the necessary work in advance of your meeting. The simpler your request is, the more likely the representative will be able to help. Some examples of work you can do as an advocate to simplify a task for a representative include:

  • Draft the letter you want him/her to sign.
  • Draft the bill you want him/her to support.
  • Provide suggestions on knowledgeable people willing to testify in committee hearings.
  • Generate press coverage on the issue.
  • Generate a wider, organized group of supporters.
  • Provide necessary research.

DURING THE MEETING

Representatives are open to hearing a constituent's concerns and suggestion, but their time is limited. For this reason, advocates should avoid barriers in communication that may slow the process of achieving a solution with the representatives.

Designate a spokesperson. Small groups work best in direct lobbying. Assign well-defined and limited roles to each person.

Break the issue up into its main points. If two or more individuals are promoting the issue, the best way to avoid redundancy is to have each speaker participate by addressing a certain part.

Keep your presentation concise. Staff members of elected officials agree that the best way to present your idea is to provide a one-page summary sheet which outlines the problem, suggested solution, and the support and opposition for your solution. Advocates may fax a copy of a proposal or request to the office prior to the meeting so the staff can use it to brief the representative. More detailed research can be left behind after the meeting for the staff's use; the representative most likely will not have time to look at it and, the meetings are not long enough for advocates to delve into intricate detail.

Adhere to key talking points when speaking with the representative (rather than digressing).

Maintain a positive and attitude. Frustration with an issue can understandably lead an advocate to express anger and sarcasm. However, communicating these feelings inappropriately to the representative and his/her staff will quickly stall the progress of finding a solution. Staff members are likely to find it difficult to be responsive to an advocate who has a negative attitude, or is rude. As one staff member put it, "If a citizen develops a relationship with me and asks me to do something for them, I will most likely do it. However, if they are consistently rude, I might just say something like, 'You know, I didn't get that information....' That's just the way it is."

Maintain a flexible attitude. Flexibility is also key. A representative or their staff may tell you that your suggested solution is not feasible. Be open not only to other solutions, but to the fact that there may be another elected official who can better help you; for example, some problems are more localized than people think, and are actually best handled by local officials.

Be negative only when you must. While being for something is preferable, opposing a proposal is frequently necessary. You will find that stopping a bad bill is often easier than to help pass a good one.

Stay honest. Although you obviously are taking a certain stand on the issue you present to a representative, do not feel you must hide the opposition and its rationale. It is crucial that the representative has all the obstacles and alternatives laid out in front of him/her in order to better assess the issue and its solution. Educate the representative on who the supporters/opponents are and why. Finally, make sure your information is accurate in order to maintain your credibility and not misguide the representative.

Never offer opinions on issues outside your direct concern. Your personal views may harm your institutional image, and your primary responsibility is to your institution. Also, always say, "I don't know," when you don't, but then find out.

Know what you are likely to be asked and exactly how you will respond. Anticipate problems or obstacles, and try to overcome them in advance. Have sound facts at hand.

Encourage legislator to lobby for you. A legislator can probably influence colleagues whom you cannot influence directly.

Don't beat a dead horse. Once your position is lost, give it up gracefully. Don't waste credibility and influence that could better be used on other issues that are still alive. Remember that power and influence are finite and exhaustible.

FOLLOW UP AFTER THE MEETING

When following up with the staff it is best to:

Be accessible. Legislators need and appreciate your help. You can become a resource on whom they can depend for reliable information. Be honest with them, and never be condescending. Decline to answer when you must, but never lie.

Create a one-on-one relationship with a key staff member. Find out which staff member is in charge of the area surrounding your issue, and keep in touch with him or her personally.

Be persistent. Do not cease contact after one follow-up phone call or letter if you can see progress is not being made. "People get lazy; this is true everywhere," notes one legislative aide. "Persistence provokes staff to respond because they want to get you off their back, and because they don't want to come across to their supervisors as if they're not doing anything." Therefore, consistent friendly reminders to staff when response is slow can be very effective.

 


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University of California, Riverside
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Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

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Governmental and Community Relations
4148 Hinderaker Hall
Tel: (951) 827-5184
Fax: (951) 827-5485
E-mail: community@ucr.edu

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