Advocacy

Do’s and don’ts for communicating with legislators

Do

Know your audience

Learn as much as you can about the lawmaker(s) you are meeting. Are they a Democrat or a Republican? What are their committee assignments? Do they have a special interest in research at the National Institutes of Health or other science funding? Review their biographical information and visit their websites.

Tailor your message to your lawmakers’ priorities

All politics are local, and lawmakers are held accountable by their constituents, so part of your appeal should be about how your issue affects your community.

Explain your work clearly and concisely

Lawmakers and their staffers are educated, news-informed generalists. Staff members often have public health or other health-related expertise. In the House of Representatives, each staff member is responsible for multiple issues.

Lawmakers develop expertise on issues under the jurisdiction of their committees. For example, someone on the Senate Judiciary Committee may not be familiar with the NIH but may be familiar with legal issues, such as discrimination on the basis of genetics. A science committee member, meanwhile, should be quite familiar with research programs at scientific agencies.

Act and look like a professional

Be professional in your demeanor and tone and address your legislators and their staffers according to their titles.

Wear business attire and comfortable shoes.

Take photos

Bring a camera, and don’t be afraid to ask to take pictures with your lawmakers.

If hosting an advocacy activity on your campus or elsewhere, document it by taking photos.

Be positive in your messaging

Research means progress and innovation.

Follow up

Send a thank-you note.

Don’t

  • Discuss an issue with which you are unfamiliar. If you don’t know the answer to a question, offer to look into it and follow up at a later date.
  • Suggest a program that can be cut to increase NIH funding.
  • Dismiss congressional staff. Congressional staff are important. They are often experts on the issues and provide critical direction to their bosses about how to vote.
  • Be partisan. Science is not partisan. Alienating one half of Congress is not an effective way to advocate.
  • Monopolize, patronize or complain.

Other toolkit topics

Call your legislator

How to find your legislator's number, and what to say.

Meet with your legislators in person

Communicating directly with your elected officials is an important way to make your voice heard.

Prepare a lab tour for your legislators

Hosting a member of Congress at your institution is an excellent way to demonstrate the importance of federal funding for scientific research.

Write a letter to the editor

A letter to the editor of your local newspaper can be very effective at increasing public awareness of an issue important to your community.

Write a letter to your legislator

A letter or email is the most popular choice of communication with a congressional office.