Thinking about visiting a public official? Here are a few tips
that will help you be a successful lobbyist. First and foremost,
you don't have to be an expert to lobby your representatives.
Your viewpoint is important and worth expressing. Never forget
that democracy depends on citizens expressing their views.
- Always be polite! Never be argumentative, call names or threaten.
- Make an appointment. Don't be disappointed if your appointment
is set up with a staff person. Legislators are busy and staff
members pass the information they receive on to their bosses.
Often, by developing a rapport with a staff member, you open an
important line of communication to that office. If your meeting
is to be with the legislator himself/herself, it will usually be
- Be on time. Identify yourself and the organization you
represent. If you are a registered voter in the legislator's
district, say so.
- Present a clear message. If you are with a number of fellow
lobbyists, choose one person to speak for your group. Get your
point across in the fewest possible words. Say exactly what you
want the policy maker to do--using your own words or the language
prepared by your advocacy organization. If your issue involves
legislation, cite the specific bill's name or number.
- Use hard facts to support your arguments. Leave supporting
documents whenever possible.
- Be prepared for questions, even challenges. If a question
throws you off balance because you don't know the answer, don't
be afraid to admit it. Say you will research the matter and
report back to them.
- Be a good listener. Give the legislator or staff member a
chance to express his/her point of view.
- Give special recognition to legislators who are known to be
on your side. Ask them for advice and help in reaching
other legislators and suggestions for ways to communicate the
issue to their colleagues.
- If a legislator or staff member expresses opposition to
your viewpoint, try to leave on a friendly note so you will have
access to them in the future.
- Be gracious. If your meeting was with a legislator, thank
him/her for taking the time to listen to your point of view. If
your meeting was with a staff member, thank him/her for
communicating your viewpoint to their boss and ask for a written
reply if you want one.
- Never talk about legislators, staff members, political
parties, or other individuals involved with your issue when you
are in hallways or elevators before or after meetings. There are
lots of operatives. They will know who you represent, but you
won't know who they represent or what side they are on.
- Follow up your visit with a thank-you letter. Restate your
case briefly and provide any information you may have promised
during your meeting. This gives you a second chance to make your
Always remember that the basic principle of effective lobbying is
grassroots pressure. While it is important to see your
legislators, lobbying is often ineffective without the help of
large numbers of letters and telephone calls or faxes from people
who live in the representive's district. Elected officials do pay
attention to the opinions of those who elect them--letters really