#5: Phone Calls
Yes, making phone calls is one of the easiest ways to reach out to your elected official. It only takes a couple minutes to complete, and if you call during business hours, you are almost certain to get an actual person to answer your call. But just because phone calls are easy to make does not make them the most effective way to contact your member of Congress.
Why Is It Ranked Fifth?
While you are able to speak directly to a person and make your case about your issue, the person on the other end is usually an intern or a junior-level staffer. They typically have very little influence on policy decisions as they spend most of their time engaging with constituents and learning the ropes.
Another reason why phone calls do not rank higher is that Congress gets a lot of them and there is no record except what gets logged into an excel spreadsheet or tracking system. If you have a really powerful personal story, there is no good way for the staffer to pass the story on to somebody else.
How to Do It Right
One of the most powerful ways to use phone calls is to strategically plan for a large group of people calling at the same time about the same issue. This shows the member of Congress and their staff that a lot of people in their district care about the issue and they need to take heed to their voters.
Be careful though: phone call campaigns can backfire if not done correctly. For example, if there is a big push to get people to call their member about a certain issue but not many people call, staffers could interpret this to mean that their constituents do not care about the issue.
Also, if the script is not effective and does not include an “ask,” this could annoy staffers and not lead to any real, substantial change.
Whether you are calling as part of a phone campaign or you are just passionate about an issue, here are some strategies to make your phone call stand out:
Introduce yourself and tell the person on the other end where you live.
Keep your call focused on your issue and mention the bill number, if there is one.
Be respectful of the staffer’s time: try to keep your call under 60 seconds.
Stay away from the blame game. It is not the intern or junior staffer’s fault that your issue has not been addressed.
Write a general outline beforehand so you can stay on topic and convey the point clearly and concisely.
Have a strong “ask.” Call ahead of important votes or decisions and make sure your ask is specific and meaningful. You can ask them to vote a certain way, co-sponsor a bill, or make a speech on the House floor.
Personalize, personalize, personalize, and personalize! Never use prewritten messages. Tell your story and create your own outline.
Show them you are a supporter
If you support their boss through volunteering or simply voting for them, let them know why you support the member of Congress. People are more open to helping out if they view you as a partner and not an adversary. Be careful how you bring this up, however, as you don’t want to be seen as asking for a favor in return for your support. Also, never bring up donations you have made... it is a big faux pas for staffers.
Start to build a relationship
Think of the phone call as the first step in building a relationship. Ask the staffer about their job and if they like working for their member. Ask if they are from the district and try to relate to them somehow. Building a relationship with a staffer is key to getting your voice heard. Do not be discouraged if the person on the other line is an intern. With high turnover, that individual could be a legislative director in no time.
Timing is everything
The most obvious time to conduct a phone campaign is when there is an upcoming vote on the issue. Phone campaigns can also be effective if a member of Congress recently had an in-person meeting on the issue or is close to considering a position on the issue.