Top Ten Tips for Calling Elected Officials

Calling the offices of elected officials at the local, state, or federal level is one of the easiest and most effective ways for patient advocates to communicate with policymakers on issues of interest and priority.  Such a phone call, if done correctly, can result in support from policymakers for SBA priorities.

It is important that when you call policymakers, it is on your own time and with your own phone. Remember, your employer might not share your views on the topic.  To reach the offices of your two Senators and your Representative in the House, just call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be transferred to their offices.

Tip: If you are not sure who represents you in your state capital or in Washington, D.C., the "blue pages" of the phone book contain information about your elected officials or you can use an on-line search engine or other resources and website such as:

U.S. Congress – http://thomas.loc.gov, www.house.gov, www.senate.gov
State Legislatures – www.nscl.org
State Governors – www.nga.org

Reminder: Be sure to keep a record of the date and time of your call(s), and the person with whom you spoke or for whom you left a message.  Sometimes the phone logs are lost, and you may need to follow-up with the office to ensure a response.

TOP TEN TIPS

  1. Once connected to your elected official's office, identify yourself as a constituent to the receptionist.  Clearly state your first and last name, your hometown, and why you are calling.  Ask politely to speak with the staff who handles health care. Sometimes, the receptionist will indicate that you will need to leave your comments with him/her.  If that is the case, you still should ask for the name of the health staffer, so that you have that information and record it for future reference.

"My name is Jessie Johnson. I am from San Francisco, and I would like to speak with the health legislative assistant about a health care issue that is important to me." 

  1. If transferred to the health staffer, or if you are put into the staffer's voicemail, reintroduce yourself and immediately identify the topic you are calling to discuss. 

"My name is Jessie Johnson. I am from San Francisco, and I am a parent with a child with Spina Bifida (or I am someone who was born with Spina Bifida), and I am calling to urge Representative/Senator to support increased funding for the National Spina Bifida Program."

  1. Make a few brief points as to why the issue is of concern to you, your community, and the nation, and why the elected official should take action.  You may want to use written notes to help you stay on topic and remain clear, while articulating your case. 

"Spina Bifida is the nation's most common, permanently disabling birth defect, which impacts virtually every organ system in the body. People who live with Spina Bifida face a host of medical, educational, professional, and social challenges that require intervention and support. The National Spina Bifida Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plays a key role in helping to improve the lives of people with this condition."

  1. Be clear as to what you are asking the elected official to do (e.g., cosponsor a particular bill, vote for or against a specific measure, sign a "Dear Colleague" letter, proclaim October as Spina Bifida Awareness Month, etc.).

"I am calling to urge the Representative/Senator to show his/her support for people with Spina Bifida, by calling for increased funding for the National Spina Bifida Program in the coming year. A Dear Colleague letter calling for a boost in funding is being circulated, which I hope he/she will sign-on."

  1. Be polite in your tone and language. On average, staffers receive more angry calls from impolite constituents than polite callers. Taking time to be polite will go a long way in getting your message across. The staffer on the other end of the phone is overworked, overwhelmed, underpaid, and receives dozens – if not hundreds – of calls a day.  Also, be sure not to use any "lingo" or "slang".  You should not assume the person on the other end of the phone is familiar with the issue you are discussing, so be as clear and concise as possible.
  1. Keep it brief. Limit your call to no more than five minutes, unless the staffer asks you questions and seems engaged in the discussion. 
  1. Specifically request a written response from the office on the elected official's position or action on the issue you addressed.

"I would like a letter from your office detailing the Senator's views on Spina Bifida and my request."

  1. Provide your full name, mailing address, e-mail address, and phone number.

"My name is Jessie Johnson.  123 Main Street, San Francisco, CA 94123.  My phone number is 415-555-1234.  I look forward to hearing back from your office."

  1. Thank the staffer for his/her time and indicate that you appreciate his/her willingness to listen and record your comments.  Be sure to record the name of the staffer and the day and time you spoke, so you can have it for future use and in case you need to follow up.

"May I have your first and last name for my records?  Thank you very much for your time and for recording my views and seeing that I receive a response from the Senator.  Goodbye."

  1. If you do not receive a response within a reasonable timeframe (approximately a month), either call or write to follow-up and request a response.  Reference your phone call and mention with whom you spoke and the topic to help facilitate a meaningful reply.

Other Tips
Be sure to keep in touch with the offices of your Members of Congress to establish a relationship, and make yourself available as a local resource on the issues.  There are times when you and an elected official will have to "agree to disagree," but over time, you also may find that the policymaker may be supportive and helpful on other matters.

It is best to contact the Member's Washington, D.C. offices, as they are better equipped to handle a greater volume of constituent calls, and most policy staff are located in the Capitol Hill office, not in the district.