Advocacy 101

Golden Rules for Those who Work with Public Officials

  1. Don't underestimate public officials. With very rare exceptions, they will be honest, intelligent and want to do the right thing. Your job is to inform them what you think is right.
  2. Don't look down on government and politics. Having a good attitude toward the profession will help you state your case.
  3. Be understanding. Put yourself in the public official's place. Try to understand his or her problems, outlook and aims. Then you are more likely to persuade them to do the same in understanding your position.
  4. Forge relationships. Don't contact public officials only when you want their help. Invite them to be guests at AACN meetings or other events. Take pains to keep in touch with them throughout the year - every year.
  5. Be reasonable. Recognize that there are legitimate differences of opinion.
  6. Be thoughtful. Commend public officials when they support your position. That's the way you like to be treated. Any public officials will tell you that they get dozens of letters asking them to do something, but very few thanking them for what they have done.
  7. Don't blame public officials for "failing" to do what you wanted. The failure may be yours if you have not done a good job in preparing, presenting and following through on your case.
  8. Be cooperative. If a public official makes a reasonable request, try to comply with it. Don't back away for fear that "it's a deal" or that you're "getting into politics."
  9. Be realistic. Remember that controversial legislation and regulation usually result in compromise. It has always been so and it will always be so in a democracy.
  10. Be practical. Recognize that each legislator has commitments and that a certain amount of vote-trading goes on in any legislature. So, don't chastise a legislator who normally supports you if he or she happens to vote against one of your bills. This doesn't necessarily mean they have deserted your whole program. Give them the benefit of the doubt; they will appreciate it and remember your silence.
  11. Be a good opponent. Fight issues - not persons. Be ready with alternatives or solutions as well as with criticisms. This is constructive opposition.
  12. Be informed. Never meet with legislators to advocate a position without first studying the facts and arguments - pro and con. The mere fact that you want a legislator to adopt one position over another won't be enough to convince them. Do your homework. Remember that while some votes may be firmly committed, there will be many others that can be swayed on the basis of sound arguments that are properly presented.

Communicating with Elected Officials

Tips On Telephoning Your Representatives

To find your representative's phone number, you may use the AACN online congressional directory available at or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Senator's and/or Representative's office.

Remember that telephone calls are often taken by a staff member, not the member of Congress. Ask to speak with the aide who handles the issue to which you wish to comment.

After identifying yourself, tell the aide you would like to leave a brief message, such as: "Please tell Senator/Representative (Name) that I support/oppose (S.___/H.R.8___)."

You will also want to state reasons for your support or opposition to the bill. Ask for your Senator's or Representative's position on the bill. You may also request a written response to your telephone call.

Tips On Writing Congress

The letter is the most popular choice of communication with a congressional office. If you decide to write a letter, this list of helpful suggestions will improve the effectiveness of the letter:

  1. Your purpose for writing should be stated in the first paragraph of the letter. If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it accordingly, e.g., House bill: H. R. ____, Senate bill: S.____.
  2. Be courteous, to the point, and include key information, using examples to support your position.
  3. Address only one issue in each letter; and, if possible, keep the letter to one page.
Addressing Correspondence:
To a Senator:

The Honorable (full name)

__(Rm.#)__(name of)Senate Office Building

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

To a Representative:

The Honorable (full name)

__(Rm.#)__(name of)House Office Building

United States House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative:

Note: When writing to the Chair of a Committee or the Speaker of the House, it is proper to address them as:

Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairwoman:

or Dear Mr. Speaker:

Tips On E-mailing Congress

Generally, the same guidelines apply as with writing letters to Congress. You may find and e-mail your representatives directly from the AACN web site.

Meeting with a member of Congress or congressional staff is a very effective way to convey a message about a specific legislative issue. Below are some suggestions to consider when planning a visit to a congressional office.

Plan Your Visit Carefully:

Be clear about what it is you want to achieve; determine in advance which member or committee staff you need to meet with to achieve your purpose.

Make an Appointment:

When attempting to meet with a member, contact the Appointment Secretary/Scheduler. Explain your purpose and whom you represent. It is easier for congressional staff to arrange a meeting if they know what you wish to discuss and your relationship to the area or interests represented by the member.

Be Prompt and Patient:

When it is time to meet with a member, be punctual and be patient. It is not uncommon for a Congressman or Congresswoman to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted, due to the member's crowded schedule. If interruptions do occur, be flexible. When the opportunity presents itself, continue your meeting with a member's staff.

Be Prepared:

Whenever possible, bring to the meeting information and materials supporting your position. Members are required to take positions on many different issues. In some instances, a member may lack important details about the pros and cons of a particular matter. It is therefore helpful to share with the member information and examples that demonstrate clearly the impact or benefits associated with a particular issue or piece of legislation.

Be Political:

Members of Congress want to represent the best interests of their district or state. Wherever possible, demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and the interests of the member's constituency. If possible, describe for the member how you or your group can be of assistance to him/her. Where it is appropriate, remember to ask for a commitment.

Be Responsive:

Be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information, in the event the member expresses interest or asks questions. Follow up the meeting with a thank you letter that outlines the different points covered during the meeting, and send along any additional information and materials requested.

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