Tips for Citizen Lobbyists
Here are a few good tips on how to lobby your legislators. The prospect may be a little scary but please do it anyway. It truly is not hard and is very, very important. Please be brave and do this for the dogs. They need you to speak up for them.
First things first… you need to identify who your state legislators are and find their contact information. You’ll find that information on the official Iowa Legislature website. Contact us for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tips on Calling Your Elected Officials
- Have an outline of what you want to say and what you want to ask your legislator to do. YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE AN EXPERT ON THE SUBJECT.
- Identify yourself. Give your name & address.
- Be brief. Clearly and concisely state your position and make your point. Limit your call to one issue. Mention the legislation, by bill number if there is one. If the legislator isn’t familiar with the issue, give him or her a brief summary. Truly, all you need to say is, “I’m concerned about the welfare of dogs in Iowa puppy mills and I want to discuss this with you.”
- Be polite and respectful. Don’t argue or act angry. Be courteous, direct and fair. If you need more time to persuade your legislator, request a meeting.
- Ask for a viewpoint and a vote. Find out where the legislator stands, any concerns about the legislation, and ask for a commitment to vote for (or against) the legislation.
- Follow-up with a thank you note.
- Report back to us. Let us know what your legislator said and any commitments made. Send your comments to email@example.com
Tips on Writing to your Elected Officials
- Express yourself. An email or a neatly handwritten or typed letter or fax using your own words and thoughts are best. Form letters and pre-printed postcards do not carry as much weight. Write about how the issue affects you and share any personal experiences you have regarding it.
- Be clear and concise. Clearly state your position on the issue and what you want the legislator to do. Be direct and firm, but not hostile. Stick to just one issue and keep it to one page—a one-page letter is more likely to be read.
- Mention the legislation. If a bill has already been introduced, include the bill number. If there is no bill number, i.e., you are writing before the session begins, then clearly state the issue. Here it is in a nutshell… We’re working to get better laws to protect dogs in Iowa’s commercial dog-breeding industry.
- Identify yourself. If you have met the legislator before, remind him/her of where and when. If you have a professional or personal investment in the issue, share this with the legislator, for example, if you work in animal rescue. Don’t forget to include your address.
- Send the correspondence. Where you send it will depend on what time of year it is. Read the Lobbying for Dogs page for more information.
- Follow up. If you don’t get a reply (remember to ask for one!) then write a follow-up. If the legislator complies with your request (e. g. : votes favorably for a bill), send a thank you note.
Tips on Meeting with Your Elected Officials
Lobbying, both grassroots and professional, is all about building relationships. The better your relationship is with a particular legislator (or anyone else you are lobbying), the more the legislator will respect you and listen to you. Even if there is not an animal protection bill on the horizon, you can talk to your legislator about your general concerns regarding animals.
- Always be polite and respectful. Never engage in name-calling or other spiteful behavior. Give them an opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions.
- Start early. Develop a relationship before the session. Call your legislators right now for coffee or lunch. During the session (January – April each year) they may be more difficult to meet with. Try to answer all of their questions on your issue before the session starts. The result will be that when you show up at the Capitol or call your legislator about an issue during the session, they will know who you are and you won’t have to start from scratch.
- Know your facts. Always be accurate in the information you give your legislators. If you do not know the answer to a question they ask, tell them you will find out and let them know. Then do it. Never exaggerate or make anything up. And believe it or not, the very best thing you can say is simply, “I care about the welfare of dogs in Iowa’s commercial dog-breeding industry and I want you to help get better laws to protect them.”
- Be persistent. If your legislator does not agree with your position at the first meeting, continue meeting with and writing to him or her. It may take a while to provide enough information and have enough of a discussion to change his or her position. At your next meeting, think about bringing along another constituent—a business owner, teacher, or religious leader—to show that there is broad community support for the issue.
- Thank you notes. Write thank you notes for every meeting and every vote that helps your issue. Remember—your legislators are people and will appreciate knowing their efforts are not unnoticed.
- Keep us informed. Let us know how the meeting went. We can help with any follow-up materials needed or answers to tough questions. This will also help us figure out where we need to augment our efforts so that our animal protection measure is enacted.
Tips on Hosting a Constituent House Meeting
You can draw on the influence constituents have on legislators by hosting a meeting in your home or some other comfortable location. Here are some tips on setting this up:
- Identify a group of voters within your Legislator’s district who are interested in the issue and able to attend your house meeting.
- Contact your Legislator and secure a commitment to attend the house meeting. Make sure to let him or her know that a group of concerned constituents will be there to talk about the specific issue you want the Legislator to vote on.
- Make sure you will have good attendance at the meeting! And don’t forget to provide some snacks & drinks for your guests.
- At the event, allow time for socializing and a chance for everyone to speak to the Legislator. (Remind everyone ahead of time that they should stay focused on the issue at hand.) Designate a time for the Legislator to speak to the group about his/her intentions to act on the issue. Alternately, you can make your event more direct with everyone addressing the Legislator in one group.
- Follow-up with the Legislator after the event. Send a thank you note and reiterate the position you want him/her to take on the issue.
Tips on Writing Letters to the Editor at Your Local Newspaper
Letters to the editor (LTEs) can be a powerful lobbying tool! You can write a letter to the editor in response to an article, an editorial, another letter to the editor or simply on a topic relevant to the paper’s readership. Here are a few tips on how to get the letter published.
- Look in the paper or on their website for guidelines on how long letters should be, if you need to include your phone number, and where to send your letter—many papers will give both a postal address and an e-mail address. And most offer a form for submitting a letter directly on their website. Consider generating it in a Word document and then copy and paste it into the online tool.
- Stay focused so that your message is clear to the reader.
- Include a comment such as, “Our lawmakers need to address this important issue.” And, “Your readers should talk to our lawmakers about the need for better laws to protect the dogs.” It’s especially effective if you call out your legislators by name in your LTE! Click here to figure out who your state legislators are.
- If your newspaper’s website doesn’t have an online form, send your letter by e-mail or fax to get it to the paper as quickly as possible. If your paper is selective, call to urge that they print your letter, emphasizing why the issue matters to the broader community.