#4: Letters, Emails, and Faxes
Even though Congress gets an avalanche of personal letters and emails every day, almost all of them are read, responded to, and filed accordingly. Many members of Congress personally read their letters from constituents, and what constituents are writing to their elected official is often considered when the office is making a decision. There are many stories about well-written personal letters, emails, and faxes swaying an undecided member of Congress on certain issues.
Why Is It Ranked Fourth?
Emails, letters, and faxes allow you to clearly and concisely present your position on the issue and your personal story. You can spend time creating an effective argument by thoroughly planning what you are going to say and fine-tuning every last detail. The fact that you have a hard copy allows your personal story to get distributed among staff if it is compelling, and it may even find its way to your member’s desk.
How to Do It Right
First things first, you need to decide how to send your correspondence.
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, since Congress started receiving letters 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 vote deadline.
Emails are instant, but they are more impersonal than letters. Depending on how emails are sent, they can be treated like phone calls and be simply read and tallied. Unless you have the personal email address of a staffer, you run the risk of your email getting lost in the crowd.
That is why we recommend the fax! We personally don’t know anybody who still uses them, but all Congressional offices still have fax machines. Because of this, faxes are the best of both worlds. They 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.
Whatever method of delivery you decide, it will be important to stand out from the crowd. Here are some suggestions for writing an effective letter, email, or fax:
Use your own works, 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. (Are you sick of hearing this yet?)
Be sure to back up your stance with statistics and facts. Add some data to your personal story to strengthen your argument, especially if you can show how the issue affects the member of Congress’s constituents.
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.
Get the right email address.
It is better to contact a staffer directly instead of filling out a generic contact form email address. However, if you email a staffer directly without giving them any indication of who you are and how you got their email address, you run the risk of coming off as rude or disrespectful. The best strategy is to try to get introduced to the staffer beforehand, either at an in-person event by the person sitting at the front desk or by an acquaintance.
Do a little stalking.
With the internet, you can find out pretty easily who works at your member's office. Their salaries and titles are public information, and you can always call the front desk and ask them the name of the staffer who works on your issue. Use this information to make personal connections. But make sure you...
Respect the staffers’ privacy.
While their info is public, it is important to remember that the member of Congress is the only “public figure” in the office, so it is important to respect the staffers’ privacy. This demonstrates consideration, understanding, and professionalism. Staffers will be much more responsive to you if you let them remain anonymous while they do their job.
Make it personal
Show the staffer that you have done your research. Address the letter to an actual human, not “to whom it may concern.” If you cannot find a staffer's name, address it to the member of Congress. Mention something personal about the member of Congress like, "I enjoyed the speech made about .............." or "I really appreciate Representative [X]'s position on .............. policy."