There are a variety of ways to communicate with government officials. Ideally, your should attempt to schedule meetings with key officials to introduce yourself and your coalition. Such meetings allow for an immediate and personal exchange of information, and provide an opportunity to begin building a rapport with government officials.
Determining When to Write, Call or Meet
While face-to-face meetings can be the most effective way of communicating, they are also the most difficult to arrange. For this reason, meeting requests should be reserved for critical times and priority issues.
The most popular form of direct communication with public officials is a written letter. For urgent or immediate issues, telephone calls, faxes and e-mails can quickly inform legislators about your position and convey important information. These forms of communication have limited effectiveness unless they are part of a focused campaign and/or followed up with letters from your coalition supporters.
While all communications should be direct, concise, simple and polite, there is no single method that is appropriate for all situations. The form of communication your coalition uses to contact public officials will depend on:
- Timeliness and importance of the message
- Number of points you want to communicate
- Amount of information per message to be conveyed
- Type of information
- Number of people conveying the message
- Need for face-to-face contact and an exchange of ideas with officials
- Your coalition’s available resources
Creating an Information Kit
It is essential to get to know key public officials and their staff before you need to secure their support and assistance. As a representative of a new organization, you will need to introduce yourself to both elected and appointed officials and their staff. An effective way to do this is to prepare an information kit that includes:
- A one-page background paper explaining the purpose, mission, and objectives of your coalition;
- A one-page paper outlining the key issues of importance to your transit system;
- List of all coalition members, their affiliations/organizations and addresses;
- Fact sheet on public transportation in your community, congressional district, state and in the country, including data on ridership, economic development around transit stops, number of employees, benefits to various populations in the community, etc.; and
- Recent editorials or news clippings that help convey important messages
The kit can be mailed to your list of government officials with a brief letter of introduction or hand-delivered during visits. In this way, you can be certain that all key officials will receive the same messages, facts and background information about your coalition and your transportation priorities.