Advocate

Communication with government officials is what grassroots efforts are all about. This guide is intended to help you with effective outreach to make your voice heard. Target is not asking for you to speak on our behalf when you contact an elected official.

 

  • know the rules of the game

    It helps to know how the legislative process works when communicating with lawmakers. In order to make your voice heard and deliver your message effectively you must know the rules of the game:

    • Time is precious. Legislators hear from many constituents every week, so letters, emails, phone calls and office visits with your lawmaker should be concise and to the point.
    • Developing a relationship with a lawmaker’s staff is helpful. A lawmaker’s staff often prepares the background documents that help inform the lawmaker’s decisions. Don’t be offended if you are scheduled to meet with a staff member instead of your legislator.
    • There’s strength in numbers. Elected officials pay careful attention to their mail, phone calls and electronic communications as an important barometer of attitudes and concerns of their constituencies. Many issues are influenced in part by the volume of individualized communications a lawmaker receives on a topic.
    • You get out what you put in. The more involved and committed you are, the more support you can likely expect from your lawmaker.
    • Knowledge is power. Your understanding of the issue you are fighting for is critical. You may be put on the spot to explain it in simple and straightforward terms. Learn as much as you can.
    • Success requires patience. Our government process is designed to move slowly. Don’t expect immediate results - particularly at the federal level.
    • Don’t be afraid to compromise. This is part of the legislative process.
    • Credibility is the key. Always provide accurate information; you need to maintain credibility with your elected official.

    When you do communicate, plan ahead and make good use of your time. Here’s how:

    • Credential yourself. Be sure that the elected official understands who you are, what you do and why you are important. For example, let the official know that you’re a constituent in his or her community.
    • Speak for yourself. Target is not asking for you to speak on our behalf when you contact an elected official. You are speaking only on behalf of yourself, even if it is an issue that Target considers a priority.
    • Be specific and concise. Know exactly what you want to talk about, and exactly what you want to ask your legislator to do for you.
    • Get answers. You are entitled to know where your representative stands. If he or she needs more time to study an issue, ask when you can check back for a response.
    • Don’t burn bridges. In political circles, the saying goes, “There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.” There are at least two sides to every issue, and your representative will not always agree with you. Don’t take it personally and remember, next time he or she may vote your way.
    • Stay informed. Ask that your name be placed on the legislator’s mailing lists and that you be kept informed as issues of interest to you move through Congress.
    • Always say thank you. Courtesy counts.
  • MEET THE LAWMAKERS
    • Face-to-face meetings are a great way to convey a message about a specific issue.
    • Plan your visit carefully. Identify the best person to meet with to accomplish your goals. For instance, find out which staffer is in charge of keeping the legislator informed on the issue you are looking to discuss.
    • Make an appointment. The official’s administrative assistant will need to know what you want to talk about and how that connects to the interests of the official.
    • Be prompt and patient. While you must be prompt, remember that it is not uncommon for an elected official to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted. If interruptions do occur, be flexible and continue your meeting with a staff member if possible.
    • Be prepared. Bring materials supporting your position. Wherever possible, demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and the interests of the elected official.
    • Be responsive. Offer to answer questions or provide additional information. Follow the meeting with a thank you letter that recaps the points covered during the meeting, and include any additional information or materials requested.
  • Send letters or email

    Letters and emails do make a difference! Federal, state and local legislators read and respond to letters and emails they receive. They gauge their responses to issues from the position of their constituents. The following points are important to keep in mind when writing:

    • Write simply and succinctly. Keep it short (one page is best). Identify the bill number and the name of the bill early in your letter. Avoid industry or political jargon.
    • Be informed, respectful and pleasant. Don’t confront or make demands. Offer solutions, if possible, and do not assume that the legislator understands the topic. Written communications to public officials become public record. Don’t say anything in a letter that you wouldn’t want reprinted in the newspaper.
    • Make your request specific and request a response. If you don’t get a response that addresses your specific request, you can write again or telephone to ask for an appointment.

    Use the proper form of address for letters:

    FEDERAL CORRESPONDENCE

    U.S. Senator Form of Address:

    Honorable Jane R. Smith
    United States Senate
    Washington, DC 20510

    Salutation: Dear Senator Smith:

    U.S. Representative Form of Address:

    The Honorable Jane R. Smith
    U.S. House of Representatives
    Washington, DC 20515

    Salutation:  Dear Representative Smith:

    STATE CORRESPONDENCE

    State Senator Form of Address:

    The Honorable Jane R. Smith
    The Senate of ________
    (Rest of Address)

    Salutation: Dear Senator Smith:

    State Representative Form of Address:

    The Honorable Jane R. Smith
    House of Representatives
    (Rest of Address)

    Salutation: Dear Representative Smith:

    LOCAL CORRESPONDENCE

    Mayor Form of Address:

    The Honorable Jane R. Smith
    Mayor of ________
    (Rest of Address)

    Salutation: Dear Mayor Smith:

    Alderman Form of Address:

    The Honorable Jane R. Smith
    Alderman
    (Rest of Address)

    Salutation: Dear Alderman Smith:

  • Communicate by telephone

    It can be challenging to reach your legislator directly. It is more common to speak with his or her staff. Remember, staff are very important! They are the “eyes and ears” of elected officials, especially in their home district when they are in session and deliberating on controversial votes.

    • Phone calls can make a difference, especially when legislative activities are moving fast! Remember these important tips when making a call:
    • Call the right office. When in session, call the member’s Capitol office. During recess periods, try the home district office.
    • Prepare in advance and speak from notes. Jotting down your key points and questions beforehand will help make sure you get the information you need. Remember the appropriate bill number (when possible), its general purpose and rationale for your support or opposition.
    • Avoid arguments. Be friendly and respectful and you’ll bring better attention to your issue.
    • Follow up with a letter. Send a letter to recap your conversation and say thanks. Mention the staff person’s name and thank the staffer for their help.
    • Provide your full name and contact information. Staff members and office personnel will often check your contact information with their constituent database.

    IMPORTANT FEDERAL TELEPHONE NUMBERS:

    U.S. Capitol Switchboard      (202) 224-3121
    Senate and House Bill Status   (202) 225-1772
    Congressional Record  (202) 512-1808
    Federal Register  (202) 523-5240