Saturday, March 19, 2011

TIPS: How to Contact Elected Officials

As we find ourselves in the Spring 2011 Legislative Session, it is a critically important time to contact our elected officials and make our voices for midwives heard. The following will give you some ideas on how to best get your message across to legislators during this busy time.


Identify your legislators and learn about their background, affiliations and voting record. These websites will help get you started, and our FFOM Legislative Committee can help you find more information.
Schedule a meeting with your legislators. Most legislators spend the majority of time in their home districts, as the legislative session is quite short. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet with your representative or senator between sessions to foster a relationship and introduce the concerns of FFOM to him/her.

When meeting with your elected officials, bear in mind that a brief visit is all that is necessary as follow-up phone calls and letter will enhance the impact of your meeting. During your meeting, keep the following in mind:
  1. Introduce yourself – as a constituent. Thank the legislator for taking the time to meet with you. Identify yourself as a member of FFOM and share a little about our mission and the people we serve (keep it brief).
  2. State your purpose. If appropriate, be clear about what legislation you are supporting or opposing. Mention it by bill number and topic. Focus on one topic per meeting. Let the legislator know your position and why you are asking her/him to vote for that position.
  3. Let the legislator and her/his staff members know that you FFOM have information and expertise. Let them know we can be a resource to them on midwifery related issues.
  4. Give them a chance to talk about their perspective on your issue.
  5. Ask for their vote and try to get a commitment at the meeting.
  6. Let them know you plan to stay in touch.
Remember: KEEP IT BRIEF. At most, you can expect 30 minutes of their time. During session or other busy seasons, a 10 minute conversation will be the average. Follow up with a thank you letter right away.


Writing letters, particularly after an in-person visit, help to keep midwifery issues and related legislation on the table with your representatives. The more often they hear and see information from FFOM about our concerns, the more important the issue will seem. Here are some hints to make your letters well received:

1. Use the correct address and salutation (i.e., Dear Senator name, or Dear Representative name, or Dear Governor name). While the legislature is in session, send letters to Senate or House offices. Between sessions, use the local office in your area.
2. Describe the bill by popular name and by House or Senate file number, or clearly describe the issue.
3. Be brief and clear. Write about one issue per letter, and state the issue and how you want your elected official to vote in your first sentence. Letters should be no longer than one page, however longer letters may be appreciated if you have some new information on the subject.
4. Be specific. If possible, give an example of how the issue affects your district.
5. Be timely. Make sure your legislator will have sufficient time to consider your request.
6. Know your facts. Inaccurate or misleading information will hurt your credibility.
7. Be polite in your requests for support or opposition. Never express anger, make demands, or threaten defeat at the next election. You will want to have future contact with the legislator.
8. Use your own words and stationary rather than form letters or postcards. In addition, write legibly or type – your letter could be discarded if it is not easy to read.
9. Be constructive. Explain an alternative or better solution to the problem and offer to be a resource on the issue.
10. Send a note of appreciation when your elected official supports your issue. When he or she does not support your issue, explain why you think a different decision should have been made. It might make a difference the next time.


Phone calls can be used to follow-up on letters and meetings, but are often best used for immediate action requests, just prior to votes or new legislative activity. Multiple calls from multiple constituents just prior to a vote can help impress upon the legislator how important this issue is to the people s/he represents. Below are some guidelines for phone calls:

1. State your name, address and indicate that you are a constituent.
2. Give the name and House or Senate File number of the legislation, or clearly explain the issue.
3. State whether you oppose or support the legislation and how you want your legislator to vote. Include a statement on how the issue affects you personally.
4. You will usually be speaking with a secretary or aide who is checking pro or con and the call will last a very short time. Keep the phone call under five minutes unless the aide or legislator prolongs the conversation.
5. Listen to the legislator’s point of view.
6. Take down the name of the aide with whom you spoke so that you will have a contact person in case you need to contact the legislator again.
7. Thank them for their time, both on the telephone and with a note of thanks for the conversation that includes a concise summary of your opinion.
8. Do not call too often and risk becoming a nuisance.
9. Do not lie or try to talk your way around questions to which you do not know the answers. Say that you will get back to the legislator or aide, and then do so.


Email remains a controversial method of contacting your senators and representatives. Though it seems like a quick and easy way of getting your message to many officials, the use of email generators and other programs have made some offices less likely to respond to email. If you do choose to email your legislators, follow the guidelines under letter writing, and be sure to reference your address and that you are a constituent at the very beginning of your email. Those offices that filter emails often do so based on whether or not the author is a constituent.

Ultimately, FFOM recommends that you use email judiciously, relying more on the “old school” forms of communication to build the relationships that will be critical to forwarding the FFOM agenda in the coming years.


Finally, please let us know when you have contacted someone so that our team can follow up with them. Our organization represents many constituents from all over the state and some parts of the country. The more we contact different officials, the more likely we are to find representatives that are willing to lend an ear, or better yet, champion a cause.

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