Are you writing a letter to an elected official?
You’re probably hoping to influence your official’s actions (including votes) to best represent you, the citizen. Well, there are ways to make your letter more effective. This article in about.gov spells out the guidelines for you and contains a lot of information you will want to consider before wasting your time and printer ink. Here are the highlights . . .
Keep it Simple
Your letter should address a single topic or issue. Typed, one-page letters are best. Many PACs (Political Action Committees) recommend a three-paragraph letter structured like this:
1. Say why you are writing and who you are. List your “credentials.” (If you want a response, you must include your name and address, even when using email.)
2. Provide more detail. Be factual not emotional. Provide specific rather than general information about how the topic affects you and others. If a certain bill is involved, cite the correct title or number whenever possible.
3. Close by requesting the action you want taken: a vote for or against a bill, or change in general policy.
The best letters are courteous, to the point, and include specific supporting examples.
From the ACLU of Michigan . . with modifications to make it work for everybody.
Are you calling their office?
1. Finding your official’s contact information:
Contacting your Representative or Senator can really make a difference. You can easily find your legislators by using whoismyrepresentative.com – simply enter your zip code and you’ll be directed to the online office of ANY of your elected federal government representatives.
Note that for more Western states, the Washington offices will be open ‘earlier’ and the local offices will be open ‘later.’ This might help busy working people get their points across.
2. Preparing for your call:
Be sure to know exactly what issue and legislation (by bill number, if you have one) you wish to discuss.
Make sure they know that you are a constituent.
Prepare some basic talking points. It’s tough to make a strong case for your position when you are unclear on what you really want changed.
Remember time is limited. Be sure that you limit yourself to one or two main points and don’t get sidetracked.
Decide what you want to achieve. Asking your legislator or his or her staff member to do something specific will help you know how successful your visit has been.
3. During the call:
Be polite and patient.
Keep it short and focused.
Be positive. Start the call by thanking the legislator for any votes he or she has made in support of your issues.
Stick to your talking points.
Provide personal and local examples of the impact of the legislation.
Do not make up an answer to a question. Just say that you aren’t sure of an answer: giving wrong or inaccurate information can seriously damage your credibility.
Set deadlines for a response. Ask when you should check back to find out what your legislator intends to do about your request. If you need to send information to your legislator, set a clear timeline for when this will happen.
4. After the call:
Write down notes about what you spoke about to remember what the elected official committed to do and what follow-up information you committed to send.
Promptly send a personal thank you letter to the legislator.
If the elected official or staff member doesn’t meet the deadline for action you agreed to during the meeting, ask him or her to set another deadline. Be persistent and flexible!
If you are planning to call your legislator in regards to an ACLU issue, let us know what you learned during your meeting by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Knowing what arguments your legislator used, what issues are important to him or her, and what positions he or she took will help us make our lobbying strategy more effective.