Elected officials should listen to their constituents and represent the people in their districts. For elected officials to know what matters to their constituents, though, both sides must work to cultivate a relationship. The most effective time to talk with legislators is when they can give you more of their attention -- during recesses or in their home offices. So even if the next legislative session is a year or more away, now is the time to start building a relationship.
Do your homework
Become familiar with your elected official's background.
To find out about individual officials, you can go to the official's website and read the biographies there, any press releases, and descriptions of bills they have authored in past legislative sessions or initiatives they have championed. Another source for learning about elected officials is in your local media and on candidates' campaign websites.
Champions and allies
Here are some things you can do if your elected official is an ally:
- Think of ways to publicly recognize this official for his or her contributions (e.g., special events, letters to the editor, etc.).
- Invite the official to visit your program or to special events, such as the opening of a new building, a holiday celebration, or something happening in conjunction with a national event (e.g., Week of the Young Child, Child Abuse Awareness Month, etc.)Events like this can help elected officials gain media attention and exposure to constituents, and also allow you to strengthen your relationship with them.
Building relationships with staff
The terms staff, staffer, and aide are all used to refer to employees of elected officials' offices. Staff members are not secretaries -- they are professionals with varying years of experience handling constituent matters, doing research, drafting policy, tracking legislation, and more.
Staff members can be valuable allies because they are usually focused on a set of specific issues, whereas elected officials themselves are pulled in many directions at once. Staff members who have many years of experience often become policy experts.
Many times when you are interacting with elected officials' offices, you will be interacting with staff members. Make the most of it. Establish yourself as a resource for the staff members who work on your issues.
All elected officials appreciate being thanked when they do something you like. They rarely get written compliments -- more often, they get flooded with complaints. So, if your representative does something you like, even something small, send a thank you letter. Remember to thank staffers, too.
For more tips on building relationships, get the Texans Care for Children Advocacy Manual.