Communication is a two-way process of sending and receiving ideas, opinions and information. In order for your message to be received by your legislator, you need to follow a few guidelines to help you communicate effectively.
First consider the method of communication to be used. 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 as well as your own personal relationship with the legislator.
- This is probably the most effective method of communicating, but also requires some careful planning. Remember 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 at a restaurant or at your office.
- If you can’t 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 yourself, your position and your subject in the first paragraph. State 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.
- Use your own words; avoid stereotyped phrases and sentences that give the appearance of form letters. Form letters are likely to be ignored or receive form replies.
- The return address should always appear on the letter as well as the envelope. Too often envelopes are thrown away.
- Be constructive. State how the bill could be improved if you disagree with its language or purpose. Be reasonable. Don’t ask for the impossible or threaten.
- Be specific and use verifiable facts to support you points. Your own personal experience is your best supporting evidence.
- Thank your legislator if they please you with a vote on an issue. Everyone appreciates a complimentary letter and remembers it.
- Don’t become a constant pen pal. Quality rather then quantity is what counts.
- Address letters to state Senators and Representatives correctly:The Honorable (full name)
Senate Post Office
Jefferson City, MO 65101
Dear Senator (last name):
The Honorable (full name)
House Post Office
Jefferson City, MO 65101
Dear Representative (last name):
- High tech 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.
- Save e-mail until you are on a first name basis with your legislator and there is a need for speed in you communication.
- A fax is only slightly more personal that e-mail
- A fax is appropriate if there are copies of documents or other photocopied items that must be communicated in a hurry, especially if 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 him/her well. It is never a good idea to rely on a telephone call alone. Follow up with a fax or e-mail.
- 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 anytime they assist you. They word had and are rarely thanked. They will remember you for acknowledging them.