One of the goals of the Fire Sprinkler Initiative is to give you the tools you need to get local governments to require sprinkler systems in all new one- and two-family homes. Here are ten tips* on how to effectively interact with local lawmakers.
1. Technology has made it easy to send blast e-mails, prewritten faxes, and form letters. But nothing compares to the value of a personalized and thoughtful contact with a lawmaker.
2. Policy-makers are busy people. Every day, they receive dozens (if not hundreds) of requests. Keep your letter short and to-the-point.
3. Make sure your letter (or e-mail) mentions the problem, the remedy (often supporting or opposing a bill), and your personal interest in the issue.
4. Make sure to specify how the legislation would help – or hurt – constituents in that lawmaker's district. If the legislation has a bill number, mention it in your correspondence.
5. One-time contacts with legislators can have value, but developing a relationship with the lawmaker and his or her staff is preferable. Stay in touch and maintain regular contact with key policy makers.
6. Use the proper title for each public official. If you're unsure, call the policy maker's office and ask the receptionist for guidance.
7. When calling a legislative office, ask for the legislator. If the lawmaker is not available, ask for the aide handling your issue.
8. Don't be disappointed if you get a staff member instead of the legislator. They often know as much (or more) about your issue, and are often the people the lawmaker leans on prior to a vote. Treat staff members the same way you would the legislator.
9. Maintain an e-mail list of supporters so you can quickly contact dozens (or hundreds) of people to ask them to send an e-mail or make a phone call to lawmakers prior to a critical vote. Although you should offer guidance on “what to say”, your supporters should use their own words and stories to have a greater impact.
10. Regardless of the situation, maintain respect for local lawmakers and keep your communications firmly fixed on the high ground.
* Source: Brad Phillips, president of Phillips Media Relations, specializing in media and presentation training for nonprofit organizations. Materials developed for The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, the largest national non-profit serving the burn survivor community.