Tips on Effective Advocacy
How much time does it take to make a difference?
You can make a difference in as little as a minute with a phone call or email to a
decision-maker. You might also make a greater commitment – and have a much greater impact –
by visiting with an elected official or staff member. This page will help you learn more
about how you can be an effective advocate.
What are the most effective means of advocating an issue or public policy position?
- A face-to-face visit with an elected official, or their staff, is the most influential form
of advocacy. Learn more.
- Writing letters in your own words is an efficient and effective way to influence
policy-makers. Learn more.
- Telephone calls are important-especially when legislation is being debated or
voted upon. Learn more.
- While every email message may not reach legislators themselves, most are seen or addressed
by the staff in some way. Learn more.
- Signed petitions can be used effectively when they are delivered in person to legislators
who have an ongoing interest in your issue, but online or email petitions are not effective ways
to influence policy. Learn more.
Visiting Legislators and Other Elected Officials
Making an in-person visit with an elected official, or their staff, is the most influential
way to influence policy. While this kind of direct lobbying requires a significant investment
of time and planning, most advocates report it is the most rewarding, both in terms of getting
their personal satisfaction and getting their points across to policy-makers.
Elected officials in Trenton and Washington have very demanding schedules. Don’t be disappointed
if you have to meet with a staff person-they may know as much or more about your issue
than the elected representative or administrator. Group visits can be particularly effective,
especially when constituents with varying – but supportive – perspective on your issue are
represented. Group visits also increases your chances of meeting with the official. Click
here for tips on meeting with legislators and other elected officials.
Writing Letters to Elected Officials
Writing letters in your own words is an efficient and effective way to influence your
elected officials, especially if you are a direct constituent. Legislative and administrative
offices often receive only a few letters on most issues, so each one can carry weight when it
arrives at the office.
Remember to include your address so that the staff member opening the
mail knows you are a constituent. If you are writing to Congress, remember that your letter
may take many weeks to arrive at Congressional offices owing to security procedures. If you’re
writing about an urgent issue, fax your letter.
A great advocacy letter is comprised of just three paragraphs, or parts.
The opening part should clearly state who you are: (“my name is Joanne Smith and I am the
mother of a child with autism”), the issue you are advocating (“I’m writing to express my
support for A-2259, which protects people who choose self-directed residential options in NJ”),
and the action you would like the official to take (“I urge you to support the bills passage
when you vote on it next week”).
The second part should give more information on the bill/action in question, (“A-2259 extends
the same rights and protections to my adult son who receives Real Life Choices services at home,
as have recipients of state services in other settings”), evidence supporting your position,
and, if you have room, more about your personal experience with the issue. The third part
should be a brief summary and provide final encouragement. When possible, try to thank your
elected official for actions they’ve taken in the past.
- A one-page letter is ideal. Say what you need to say, but be as brief as possible.
- Stay on one issue. Single-issue letters have the greatest impact.
- Be sure your letter is legible and neat. Handwritten letters can also be very effective,
as long as they are legible.
- Never be rude, insulting, or make threatening statements in advocacy letters, such as
suggesting that you will penalize the official in the voting booth. Doing so will remove
any chance you had to positively influence the official or staff members.
- Always address your communications properly.
State legislators most often receive letter communications at their district office, but
you may address their letters to the Statehouse in Trenton if you are writing to them in
their role as a partisan leader, such as Majority Leader, Speaker, or Committee Member.
New Jersey Senate
P.O. Box 099
Trenton, NJ 08625-0099
New Jersey General Assembly
P.O. Box 098
Trenton, NJ 08625-0098
The letter’s salutation should read “Dear Senator” or “Dear Assemblyman/woman.”
Congressional delegates are addressed as “Congressman” or Congresswoman” if they are a member of the House of Representatives, or as “Senator” if a member of the U.S. Senate.
The advocacy tools provided on our site will help you identify your elected officials, properly
address your letter, and help you print or email your letter.
Although not as effective as letters, telephone calls can be very effective advocacy tools –
especially when targeted legislation is being debated or voted upon. A constituent may not
get through to a legislator or administration official on the first telephone call, but talking
to or leaving a message for the relevant staff person has a significant impact.
Remember to identify yourself properly (“My name is Mary Jones from Curtisville, and I have
a brother with autism”). Just as you would in a letter, name the issue you’re interested in,
and ask to speak to the legislator or a staff person who works on that issue. Making your
statement to the person who has answered the phone is OK if no one else is immediately available.
Although not all emails will be read personally by legislators or high ranking administration officials,
most are seen or addressed by the staff in some way. How emails are handled varies widely from
office to office – some will make sure you get a personal reply, some will send an automatic reply
and nothing else. For popular issues, the number of email messages received by legislative offices
are an indicator of the level of support behind a particular issue or initiative.
Keep in mind that sending a written letter through the mail is more effective than sending an email.
If you are going to email, be sure to include your home mailing address in your message! The advocacy
tools available on our site will do that for you.
Petitions, though relatively easy to circulate, are not a highly effective means of persuasion
unless they will be delivered in person to an elected official who is sympathetic with your issue.
Online petitions can be good for raising awareness about a subject, but are usually not an
effective advocacy tool with policy-makers. They may be useful is for building a database of people
interested in your cause.
If you’re going to sign an internet petition, do so only through a website – not by email – and make
sure it is sponsored by a trusted organization. Petitions hosted on a website do not change, and they are more secure, but they can still be
inaccurate or outdated. Email petitions are frequently wrong or may be a hoax,
outdated, or all of the above. Be aware that there may be nothing to prevent the petition from being
changed after (or before) you’ve signed it. In nearly all circumstances such petitions will be meaningless
to elected officials.