Once your chapter has considered some issues and developed a plan of action, you are ready to start contacting decision makers (elected officials, administrative officials and other non-elected officials). You want to make sure your contact with them is as effective as it possibly can be. Consider the following tips when dealing with decision makers:
It is important to understand who makes policy decisions on your issue in order to avoid wasting time trying to contact the wrong people. In some cases, these decision makers may be administrative officials rather than elected officials.
Don’t assume decision makers understand your issue. The members of your organization are likely more experienced than the decision makers on your particular issue.
If handled properly, the grassroots lobbying process leads to a long-term, effective working relationship with the decision maker. The decision maker may also become an advocate for your industry. Do not be antagonistic towards decision makers—this is a learning process for them. You should present yourself and your industry as willing to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Even if you have no particular issue to discuss, spend time being proactive educating decision makers; don’t wait until a threat to your industry is eminent before you start educating decision makers. As a matter of fact, the best time to educate is when there is no threat at all.
Remember that you (and your coalition partners if applicable), your employees, your clients, and your and their families can all be effective advocates for your cause. Anybody affiliated with you and your partners who pay taxes and votes is a potential advocate.
If possible, try to have members of your organization or coalition who are constituents of the targeted elected officials contact them. Elected officials care what their voters think.
E-mails, phone calls, speaking at public meetings, petitions, and letters to the editor are all effective tools you and your partners can use to keep your message in front of decision makers and the public.
As with the coalition concept, there is power in numbers. The more individual contacts a decision maker receives the better.
Avoid “form letters.” Don’t send copies of the same e-mail or letter signed by 50 different people. These are not effective, but 50 individual letters and e-mails with the same overall message and different content ARE effective. Personalize your contact.
Educating decision makers about your industry should be an important goal of your grassroots campaign.
Remember that the same rules apply to a grassroots campaign and your education efforts. Be cordial rather than defensive, and show decision makers that you’re part of the solution rather than the problem.
In all these matters, honesty is the best policy. Misleading decision makers may make them hostile and destroys your credibility. Decision makers are not likely to listen to your views in the future if they feel they have been misled by you in the past. This makes your organization more vulnerable in the future.
Often it is beneficial to make contact with your elected officials in advance of the beginning of the legislative session. Just to introduce yourself while they are not buried in the rush of legislative activity.