Building a relationship with elected officials is both intimidating and rewarding. The following are a few tips to start a working partnership with those representing you.
In any communication, be very mindful of your legislator’s time. Legislators are concerned with multiple issues and work with many constituents.
Know the committees your legislator sits on. They may be familiar with clinical research depending on their areas of interest.
Being passionate is important, but always be courteous and clear. You may not agree on every topic, but relationships start with respect and trust.
Be professional. Establishing credibility by clearly communicating your position in a courteous, accurate and professional way is vital.
Knowledge is power, know your issue. Offer information relevant to your topic which may include materials explaining the issue (do not leave more than 2 pages of materials).
Have an ask. What is it you would like your legislator to do? Support a specific bill, increase funding.
Share information. Increase awareness of your issue by relaying any information you receive from your legislator to your organization, community, family and friends. Write a letter to the editor, post on social media, try any method to broaden your audience.
How to Communicate:
- All federal legislators have offices in their district as well as in Washington, DC. Call the local office first and ask the best way to communicate with your legislator and staff.
- Ask which method of communication the legislator prefers; email, letter, phone calls, text, social media or in-person meetings. Ultimately, you want to be on a first name basis with them.
- Much of the work is completed by the legislative staff so take the time to get to know them. They can be your greatest ally and many times are the access point to your legislator.
- Know what you are going to say. Walk into a meeting or conversation knowing exactly the message you want to convey and how you want to convey it. We will discuss more below on “How to Advocate Effectively”
- Offer your expertise. Tell them you and/or your organization will help educate, inform, speak on behalf of and support any next steps from the legislator’s office. If they need guidance, be there.
- What you say matters so be honest. If you do not know something, admit it and say you will get back to them. Your narrative may become theirs so make sure your information is accurate and truthful.
- When you identify yourself as a constituent (not to mention a voter), they will be much more receptive.
- Say thank you and follow up. Most contact from the public are people complaining. Writing a letter or note to each staff member with whom you met thanking them for their time shows your appreciation and reminds them one more time you are asking for their support.
How to Advocate Effectively.
- Schedule an in-person meeting. Face-to-face meetings will stand out among endless emails and calls, but BE PREPARED.
- Have clear talking points. What are you advocating for? Who is affected by your issue? How does this affect the legislator’s constituents? What is the social and/or economic impact? How will this improve the human condition? How can the legislator support your issue?
- Tell a personal story. If you are advocating, most likely you have a personal connection with the issue. Your job in the meeting is not to present as many facts and figures as you can about your issue. Rather, your job is to make the issue relevant to the elected official or staff person.
- Don’t be surprised if you encounter young staff at these offices. Be respectful. One day they may open doors for you.
If you represent a site or advocacy organization, invite the legislator and staff to tour your facility. Especially during election season, they should be eager to meet your employees and learn about your work. Plan on inviting your legislator to a brief 15-30 minute tour followed by a sit down question and answer. This is designed to be a minimum time commitment. Having legislators know that you are in their district and aware of the work you do is invaluable.
- Stay plugged into The STARR Coalition and give us feedback from your visit. We can post photos and stories to share with other stakeholders.
- Foster your relationship with your legislator. Be where you know your legislator will be. Are they speaking to any civic groups? Make a point to go to the County Fair and say hello to them. Be seen over and over until you are on a first name basis with them. It is your responsibility to be open and honest with your legislator to become a trusted confidant when it comes to the way clinical research impacts people’s lives in their district. They will start to see you as a resource and they may begin calling you for advice about issues.
Find your elected officials here: www.usa.gov/elected-officials