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Advocacy Tips

How to Effectively Communicate with Your Legislator

Find Out Who Your Legislators Are

Nothing is more powerful than your voice when it comes to contacting your legislators. First, find out who you legislator is and how to contact him or her. For Minnesota, CLICK HERE to find your state legislators. To find your Federal legislators, CLICK HERE.

Calling Your Legislator

When you call your legislator, you may reach a legislative assistant or even a voicemail to leave a message. Keep these things in mind:

  • Keep your message short (no more than 2 minutes long spoken). You might want to even write your message out ahead of time and have it in front of you when you call.
  • Identify who you are, what city you are calling from, and how to contact you. Be sure to let them know you live in their district.
  • Mention the bill number if you are calling about specific legislation.
  • State your position on an issue or specific bill.
  • Always say "thank you."

Written Letters, E-mailing, and Faxing Your Legislator

Addressing Your Letter

Addressing Members of U.S. Congress

To Your Senator
The Honorable (full name)

Room #, Name of Senate Office Building

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

To Your Representative

The Honorable (full name)

Room #, Name of House Office Building

United States House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20510

Addressing Members of Minnesota Legislature

To Your State Senator

 The Honorable (full name)

 Room #, Name of Building (Capitol or State Office Building)

 Street Address of Building

 Minnesota Senate

 St. Paul, MN 55155

To Your State Representative
The Honorable (full name)

 Room #, Name of Building (Capitol or State Office Building)

 Street Address of Building

 Minnesota House of Representatives

 St. Paul, MN 55155

State the purpose or main point of your letter in the first paragraph.

If you are writing about specific legislation, be sure to include the bill number in the first paragraph and if you support or oppose it. Keep your first paragraph short—six sentences if possible.

Use Supporting information to back up your Main Point

This can be facts or even your personal story

Be Brief and to the Point.

Keep your letter to one page.

Be Neat

Letters should be typewritten or neatly written. Be sure to include your full name and address on letters, faxes and e-mail.

Send Your Letter, Email or Fax

Hard copy, written letters still get the most attention. However, it sometimes takes longer to get to the legislator. If your letter needs to arrive by a certain time, especially before a bill is voted on, make sure your letter will be able to make it in time. E-mailing and faxing letters are a great alternative for faster delivery. If you are going to use e-mail, be sure to put something short and catchy in the subject line (i.e. “Vote No for SF 3617).

Address Only One Issue Per Letter

This ensures that your primary message doesn’t get lost and you can better focus your supporting points.

Show Respect

You always will have a better chance of being taken seriously and will develop a good ongoing relationship with a legislator.

Be Timely

Be sure your letter, e-mail, or fax will be received before decisions or final actions are made. If you are unsure about which tool to use (letter, e-mail, or fax), call the legislator’s office to find out how long it typically takes for mail to be processed through their legislative mailroom. Due to heightened security, it could take as much as 3-4 weeks for your letter to clear the federal mailroom and actually be delivered.

Follow-up with the Legislator

If you have not received a response within two weeks, be sure to follow-up with the legislator’s office by calling.

Write Thank You Notes

When a legislator supports a bill you support, follow-up with a brief thank you note to let him or her know that you appreciate his or her efforts.

Meeting with Your Legislator

Meet with Other Concerned Individuals

If there are others who share your same concerns, consider going as a group. Meet ahead of time to prepare for your visit with your legislator. Determine your groups top two concerns. Identify the main spokesperson and two to three people to share their 5-minute personal stories

Prepare a Brief Fact Sheet to Leave with the Legislator

This should be one page and should include facts that support your concerns. Include a short paragraph for background/history, bulleted key facts, what action you would like the legislator to take, and your contact information. Other autism organizations may already have fact sheets you can readily use, so be sure to use those if they meet your needs.

Schedule an Appointment with the Legislator

Call your legislator's office to schedule an appointment with the legislative assistant or scheduler (Federal).

Be Prepared for the Meeting

Be Polite, Professional, and Prompt.

Be sure to dress in clean, neat clothing for the meeting. Expect some delays for the appointment as sometimes legislators have unexpected committee hearings or floor sessions.

Discuss Only Two Topics

This will keep you focused as well as ensure the legislator or staff is able to quickly grasp your concerns.

Explain What Action You Want

Be sure to clearly state what action you want (oppose a bill, support a bill, support an issue) and why. Personal stories are a good tool to back up your points.

Determine What Your Legislator Knows

Sometimes the legislator or staff can give you information as to what groups support or oppose your issue/bill. Ask for specific arguments and supporting points these groups have presented thus far.

Be Polite, Be Assertive

Don’t let the discussion get off track or allow broad responses by the legislator. Ask for specifics and explanations for unclear answers. Maintain direction and control of the meeting.

Be Prepared to Answer Questions

If you are asked a question you can’t answer, write down the question and let the legislator know you will get back to him or her with an answer. Never make up an answer. It will destroy your credibility and the legislator will not trust you.

Ask for a Commitment

Ask the legislator to give his or her position on an issue or bill. If the legislator is unsure or opposes your issue or bill, ask why and offer to provide more information that may assist him or her in making a decision or changing his or her mind.

Take a Picture

Be sure to bring your camera and ask to take a picture with your legislator.
Use the picture for print media (newsletters, newspapers, etc.) and other internet and social media (blogs, website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to let the public know that you visited this legislator and how he or she supports your bill or issue.

Follow up Your Visit

Be sure to send a thank you note no later than one week after meeting with the legislator, regardless of whether or not he or she supports your bill or issue. Don’t forget to follow up with information on any questions you could not answer during the meeting.

Testifying for a Committee Hearing

Watch or Attend a Committee Hearing

If you have time, attend a live committee hearing to get an idea of how testimonies are handled by others. You can also watch past online committee hearings by clicking here

Sign up to Testify.

This can be done by contacting the legislative assistant in the legislator’s office.

Prepare Your Written Statement

Prepare a written statement (no longer than five minutes spoken) clearly stating the bill you support or oppose, why, and linking your personal story to support your case. Practice, practice, practice before the hearing.

Make Copies for Committee Members

Make 20 copies for distribution to committee members. Be sure your name and contact information is on your written testimony copies.

Bring Along a Picture of Your Child

Find one or two pictures of your child to show; a picture frame can be placed on the testimony table. Put a real face to the issue or bill.

Be Prepared to Answer Questions

If you don’t know the answers, be sure to note which legislator asked the question and tell him or her you will get back to him or her with the answer within a week. Never try to make up an answer on the fly.

Thank them!

Thank the Chair and committee members for giving you the opportunity to speak to this issue or bill.

Other Tips

Always be polite to legislative staff. They are the “gate keepers” and can be very strong allies.

Strategies that Increase Your Influence

  • Work with other "like minded" people to create a group effort.
  • Get the support of other well-known groups or organizations.
  • Help a supportive political candidate get elected.
  • Utilize the media to get the word out.

Helpful Links

Minnesota State Legislature

"Making Your Case" Online Course offered by the Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities

"Telling Your Story" is a free iPad app now available at the Apple iTunes Store. Learn how to compose, record and practice your personal story and how to best present your story to your elected public officials. Click on the icon to the left to find this app on iTunes.