How To Write An Advocacy Letter
A step-by-step guide on how to write a letter to your representative
Even though Congress gets an avalanche of personal letters every day, almost all of them are read, responded to, and filed accordingly.
Many members of Congress personally read letters from constituents, and what constituents write to their elected official is sometimes considered when the member of Congress is making a decision on an issue.
But does this mean that writing an advocacy letter is the best way to contact Congress?
We wrote some questions for you to ask yourself before you decide if you should write a letter to Congress or not.
Before You Write Your Advocacy Letter To Congress, Answer These Questions:
Your time is your most valuable resource, so it is important to ask yourself if writing an advocacy letter will be a useful activity or a giant waste of time. There are many factors to consider before deciding if you should write a letter to your member of Congress.
1. Has your legislator already taken a public stand on the issue you want to write about?
If so, it is very unlikely that a member of Congress will change his or her mind on an issue. Constantly changing positions is bad for politicians because they will be labeled a "flip-flopper" by their political opponents.
2. Is the timing right?
Is there an upcoming vote on the issue you want to write about? Has the leadership of either party indicated they want to prioritize your issue during the current legislative session? Is the issue you are writing about newsworthy? If your issue is not relevant or your timing is off, your letter will most likely be ignored.
3. Will your letter elevate the issue?
Maybe your issue is not newsworthy or on politicians radar, but that does not necessarily mean you should not write your letter. If you have a cause that you think needs to be elevated, and your letter could accomplish that, then it might be worth your time to write to your member of Congress. This is especially true if your issue is a win-win or could make your legislator look good by addressing the issue.
4. Do you have an ask for your legislator?
Writing a letter without including an ask is a waste of time. Make sure there is a relevant action your member of Congress, or the staff, can take to advance your issue. Ask the member to co-sign a current piece of legislation, ask if he or she can make a speech about your issue on the House floor, ask him or her to attend an upcoming hearing on the issue or to try to speak with a member of the committee that oversees your issue.
5. Are you willing to follow up with the staffer?
Just writing a letter and hoping it alone will somehow magically lead to a policy change or a law being signed is unrealistic. Your advocacy letter to Congress should be the beginning of a relationship you are trying to build with your member of Congress and their staff.
Include Your Personal Advocacy Story
When drafting your advocacy letter, it is important that you articulate why the issue is important to you.
You might be inclined to write a well-thought-out argument and include many statistics to back it up. However, if you really want to get your letter to resonate with your member of Congress, you need to have a personal and relatable story — something that puts a human face on the issue.
Ask yourself why this issue matters to you, and craft your story into a powerful anecdote you can share with staffers.
How to write a letter to your member of Congress?
Letters are a good advocacy tool because they allow you to clearly and concisely present your position on the issue and tell your personal story. Also, writing a letter allows you to carefully plan for what you are going to say.
Here are some tips to help you write an effective advocacy letter to your member of Congress:
Use your own words, do not use a pre-written message.
Include a return address so the staffer knows you are from the member's district or state. They may also want to mail you a response.
Introduce yourself and tell the reader a little bit about yourself.
After the greeting, be clear and concise about what your issue is and what position you want your lawmaker to take.
Include a personal story.
Be sure to back up your stance with statistics and facts. Add some data to your personal story to strengthen your argument.
Try to show how the issue affects other constituents in your congressional district.
ALWAYS be courteous and respectful.
Write your letter or email in a clear and concise manner and show your member of Congress the impact a change will have on you and your community.
If you are writing as part of a campaign from an advocacy organization, try to personalize it as much as you can.
How to send your letter to Congress?
Letters are great because they are physical, which tends to be more memorable. A personalized letter also shows the staffers and the member of Congress that you care enough about the issue to sit down and spend time writing it out.
Showing that you care is important because it shows you might just care enough about the issue to let it decide your vote (i.e., a single-issue voter).
However, when Congress started receiving letters in 2001 that had anthrax and other harmful substances inside, all external letters are now subject to a very strict screening process before being delivered.
If your issue is time-sensitive, a letter may not be the best option as it could take up to a month to reach your member of Congress’s office and miss the voting deadline.
That is why we recommend the fax!
We don’t know many people who still use fax machines, but all Congressional offices still have them. Because of this, faxes are the best of both worlds.
Faxes are delivered to the member’s office instantly, and at the same time, they can show that you sat down to write a letter.
If the issue is time-sensitive, you can write a letter about it and fax it over before you drop it in the mail.
Whether you send the letter through the mail or fax it to your member's office, a letter is a great way to contact Congress.
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