Effective Advocacy Checklist

Confused about the process of communicating with Congress? Use this handy checklist to make sure you’re on the right track.

(Click here to download a PDF of this checklist.)

Is my Congressional Office the Best Place to Start?

I have figured out that I want:

_ Casework: I need help with a particular federal program (social security, or the IRS, for example)
_ Policy Representation: I want my representative or senator to take a position on a certain federal (not state or local) issue.

Background Research

Think about the following questions:

_ Who are my representative and senators?
_ What is their legislative record and general philosophy?
_ What issues are they passionate about?
_ What committees are my representative or senators on?
_ Is my representative or senator newly elected, or more senior?
_ What party does my representative or senator belong to?

Message Development

_ Tell a compelling story — you have something of value to contribute!
_ Know your facts
_ Make your message your own
_ Be positive

General Message Delivery

These tips apply to all communications — letters, phone calls, and meetings.

_ Decide which method of communication suits you and your purpose
_ Develop a thoughtful, well-argued message
_ Ask your member to take a specific action
_ Ask your member to respond to the request
_ Make it clear what your priorities are
_ Tell your congressional office how you can be an ongoing resource
_ Make your message targeted and forceful without being rude or threatening
_ Tell the truth
_ Be reasonable about opposing points of view
_ Be prepared to answer questions about opposing arguments

Effective Meetings

_ Determine whether a meeting is needed to deliver the message
_ Decide where you want to meet, after looking at the congressional calendar
_ Decide who you want to deliver your message (preferably someone from the district)
_ Limit the number of people you bring to the meeting
_ If you’re in DC for a national meeting, try to coordinate with others from your state
_ Fax the scheduler a meeting request, including a list of issues and attendees
_ Follow-up with a phone call to the scheduler after sending a written request
_ Schedule carefully to assure you will be on time, but not too early, for each meeting
_ On voting days, try to schedule meetings with members before 11:00 A.M.
_ Be prepared to meet anywhere — standing up in the hallway or on the run to a vote
_ Be prepared to deliver your message in five minutes
_ Make sure you have short, concise, and consistent information to leave behind
_ Leave your information in a file folder with your organization’s name on the label

Effective Written Communications

_ Make your communication stand out by making it personal, thoughtful, and accurate
_ Ask for a response
_ Confine each written communication to one topic
_ Double check office numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail addresses

Effective Phone Calls

_ If you want someone to think about what you’re saying, ask for a response
_ Have the basic facts about the issue on hand

Following Up

_ Send a thank you note to the staff and the member soon after a meeting
_ Wait at least three weeks for a response before checking back
_ Report on your meeting in a non-threatening way