Business owners often have a love/hate relationship with elected officials. Business executives appreciate the regulations in place to protect their interests but bristle at laws which appear to be unnecessary from their vantage point. But no matter where you fall on the love/hate scale, there may be a time you want to talk to your alderperson about the renewal of your liquor license, speak to your state senator about an idea for a new business tax credit, or share an opinion about federal health care regulations with your congressman.
As a general rule, the higher the elected office, the harder it will be to get a face-to-face meeting with the politician. So don’t be insulted if you are offered a meeting with staff instead. Staff are very knowledgeable about public policy issues as well as knowing how to navigate the bureaucracy to get answers to your questions. If you hope to connect with a federal level politician, start by contacting the district office. Staff in the district office are usually more constituent service focused than staff in Washington, D.C.
The best way to communicate with elected officials at any level of government is via email because the recipient can read it and respond as their hectic schedule allows. In addition, the official can more accurately describe the details of your situation with issue experts if the answer to your question requires some research.
Follow these four email tips for best results:
- Grab their attention
The subject line should clearly identify what prompts your email.
- Be as clear, concise and accurate as possible.
The tone of your message should always be polite, even if you disagree with the politician’s position on the issue. Threatening never to vote for the politician in the future if they don’t vote your way is not an effective tactic. Also, be aware that all written communications to elected officials may be subject to disclosure in an open records request so choose your words wisely.
- Don’t show up unannounced
If you request an appointment, state the reason for the visit and who else plans to attend with you. If the nature of the meeting is time sensitive, provide rationale for the urgency and indicate when your schedule is open. Consider asking other business leaders to accompany you to the visit if your goal is to discuss desired changes to legislation. Being able to demonstrate that a law change would help multiple businesses will strengthen your case.
- Verify who you are
Include your full name, home address, phone number and email address. The inclusion of your home address allows the recipient to verify that you are indeed a constituent. Due to the volume of emails and calls many politicians receive, some will only respond to constituents.
If you don’t know who your elected official is or how to contact him/her, a quick internet search should deliver results. Try searching by the level of office you wish to contact (governor, mayor, representative, senator, alderperson, etc.) and the name of the community in which you live. Or look for contact information for elected officials on the appropriate government website.
So the next time you think someone should encourage the mayor to create a revolving loan fund to help small businesses, look no further than the mirror and follow these four tips for emailing your elected official.