Tips for Citizen Lobbyists
Tips on Calling Your Elected Officials
- Prepare. Have an outline of what you want to say and what you want to ask your legislator to do.
- Identify yourself. Give your name & address.
- Be brief. Clearly and concisely state your position and make your point. Limit your call to one issue. Mention the legislation, by bill number if there is one. If the legislator isn’t familiar with the issue, give him or her a brief summary.
- Be polite and respectful. Don’t argue or act angry. Be courteous, direct and fair. If you need more time to persuade your legislator, request a meeting.
- Ask for a viewpoint and a vote. Find out where the legislator stands, any concerns about the legislation, and ask for a commitment to vote for (or against) the legislation.
- Follow-up with a thank you note.
- Report back. Let us know what your legislator said and any commitments made.
Tips on Writing to your Elected Officials
- Express yourself. A neatly handwritten or typed letter using your own words and thoughts are best. Form letters and pre-printed postcards do not carry as much weight. Write about how the issue affects you and share any personal experiences you have regarding it.
- Be clear and concise. Clearly state your position on the issue and what you want the legislator to do. Be direct and firm, but not hostile. Stick to just one issue and keep it to one page—a one-page letter is more likely to be read.
- Mention the legislation. If a bill has already been introduced, include the bill number. If there is no bill number, i.e., you are writing before the session begins, then clearly state the issue.
- Identify yourself. If you have met the legislator before, remind him/her of where and when. If you have a professional or personal investment in the issue, share this with the legislator, for example, if you are a teacher or a parent. Don’t forget to include your address.
- Mail the letter. If the legislature is in session, send it to the legislator’s capitol address; if it isn’t, send it to the home office address.
- Follow up. If you don’t get a reply (remember to ask for one!) then write a follow-up letter. If the legislator complies with your request (e. g. , votes favorably for a bill), send a thank you note.
Tips on Meeting with Your Elected Officials
Lobbying, both grassroots and professional, is all about building relationships. The better your relationship is with a particular legislator (or anyone else you are lobbying), the more the legislator will respect you and listen to you. Even if there is not an animal protection bill on the horizon, you can talk to your legislator about your general concerns regarding animals.
- Always be polite and respectful. Never engage in name-calling or other spiteful behavior. Give them an opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions.
- Start early. Develop a relationship before the session. Call your legislators right now for coffee or lunch. During the session they may become too busy to meet with you. Try to answer all of their questions on your issue before the session starts. The result will be that when you show up in a committee or call you legislator about an issue during the session, they will know who you are and you won’t have to start from scratch.
- Know your facts. Always be accurate in the information you give your legislators. If you do not know the answer to a question they ask, tell them you will find out and let them know. Then do it. Never exaggerate or make anything up.
- Be persistent. If your legislator does not agree with your position at the first meeting, continue meeting with and writing to him or her. It may take a while to provide enough information and have enough of a discussion to change his or her position. At your next meeting, think about bringing along another constituent—a business owner, teacher, or religious leader—to show that there is broad community support for the issue.
- Thank you notes. Write thank you notes for every meeting and every vote that helps your issue. Remember—your legislators are people and will appreciate knowing their efforts are not unnoticed.
- Keep us informed. Let us know how the meeting went. We can help with any follow-up materials needed or answers to tough questions. This will also help us figure out where we need to augment our efforts so that our animal protection measure is enacted.
Tips on Hosting a Constituent House Meeting
You can draw on the influence constituents have on legislators by hosting a meeting in your home or some other comfortable location. Here are some tips on setting this up:
- Identify a group of voters within your Legislator’s district who are interested in the issue and able to attend your house meeting. It is good to have community leaders and respected individuals representing the diversity of your voting district. You might also want to invite representatives of various local organizations such as parent-teacher organizations, domestic violence prevention groups, neighborhood associations, labor organizations and the chamber of commerce.
- Contact your Legislator and secure a commitment to attend the house meeting. Make sure to let him or her know that a group of concerned constituents will be there to talk about the specific issue you want the Legislator to vote on.
- Make sure you will have good attendance at the meeting! And don’t forget to provide some snacks & drinks for your guests.
- At the event, allow time for socializing and a chance for everyone to speak to the Legislator. (Remind everyone ahead of time that they should stay focused on the issue at hand.) Designate a time for the Legislator to speak to the group about his/her intentions to act on the issue. Alternately, you can make your event more direct with everyone addressing the Legislator in one group.
- Follow-up with the Legislator after the event. Send a thank you note and reiterate the position you want him/her to take on the issue.
Tips on Finding Out Who Represents You
Everyone in New Mexico is represented by two U. S. Senators and one U. S. Representative as well as by one state senator and one state representative. If you don’t know who represents you, you can find out either online or with a quick phone call.
- Visit the www.vote-smart.organd enter your “zip plus four” in the box on the left side of the screen. If you don’t know your “zip plus four,” follow the link to the post office web site where you can look it up.
- Contact your county clerk. The phone number will be listed in your phone book under county government.
- Visit the New Mexico Legislature website at: nmlegis.gov and click on Find Your Legislator. Or call the Capitol at 505-986-4600.
Tips on Tabling
Sometimes we need to get a lot of letters to a particular Legislator. One easy and effective way to do that is to set up a table in a public place and ask people to write a quick letter to their Legislator. Here’s how:
- Find well-traveled public locations, such as grocery stores, shopping malls, parks, etc. Get approval ahead of time from the owner or manager, or city officials to set up a table.
- Gather your supplies, including folding tables and chairs, pens, paper, envelopes, and stamps. If you are going to be outside, bring some paperweights in case it gets windy—rocks work great!
- Have the names and addresses of all legislators whose constituents frequent your location.
- Organize as many volunteers as you can to table for two-hour shifts at each location. You should try to have volunteers there for six hours total, or three shifts per day.
- Write sample letters in large print on poster board and make signs advertising the issue. Make sure letters are short and direct, state the bill number or the issue clearly and indicate what action the author wants the Legislator to take. One or two supporting points should be included, but don’t expect folks to stop to write a long letter. Make sure you have at least three different sample letters and encourage people to use their own words. We don’t want multiple identical letters reaching the Legislator.
- Drop the sealed, stamped, and addressed letters in the mail. Then write a thank you note to the owner, manager or city official that gave you permission to set up your table as well as to each of the volunteers who helped out.
Tips on Writing Letters to the Editor
- You can write a letter to the editor in response to an article, an editorial, another letter to the editor or simply on a topic relevant to the paper’s readership. Here are a few tips on how to get the letter published.
- Read the letters to the editor for a few days to get a sense of what kind of letters are printed. Some papers are very selective, choosing letters that relate to recently printed stories, while others print nearly every letter, regardless of topic.
- Look in the paper for guidelines on how long letters should be, if you need to include your phone number, and where to send your letter—many papers will give both a postal address and an e-mail address.
- Stay focused so that your message is clear to the reader.
- Send your letter by e-mail or fax to get it to the paper as quickly as possible. If your paper is selective, call to urge that they print your letter, emphasizing why the issue matters to the broader community.
Tips on Attending Legislative Hearings
During the legislative session, attend committee hearings. Simply being there and being identified as being pro (or con) is an enormous push for your issue.
- Consider testifying. Keep your comments short and to the point. We can coach you on this when the time comes.
- Be prepared to wait. Committee meetings don’t always start on time and there is no set order for bills to come up on the day’s agenda.
- Let your legislators know you are there. This is especially important if one of them is on the committee hearing the bill.
- Stay informed!