First of all, your Representatives and Senators do want to hear from you. The majority of their D.C. staff’s time is spent reviewing and answering constituent mail. How much of an impact your communication has can be significantly impacted by how and what you write. Our aim here is to provide guidelines to maximize your impact. It does take a little extra effort to do it right, but since so much is at stake, we hope you will agree it is worth the effort.
The list of do’s and don’ts below that will boost your chances of being heard in a meaningful way. We need every voice to count.
Dos and Don'ts in the next two messages.
Don’t bother sending communications to Members of Congress that don’t represent you. Mail from folks who are not constituents is discarded or ignored.
There is an exception to this rule - if you are working on an issue under review by a specific congressional committee, then you should not be shy about contacting the committee members, and especially the committee chair.
NOTE: DO NOT use the “one click” link to “Federal” on the results page or the Web mail link provided by sites like CapWiz. It will be classified as a "campaign" email. Click on each Senator and your Representative individually and use their own Web page email link.
Don’t send a postal letter or fax unless you cannot access e-mail or the Internet. All incoming letters are irradiated to eliminate possible biological threats and that slows down delivery by a few days to a week. Further, both faxes and letters require extra handling and processing that further delays their input and your message.
I personally do write and use postcards and faxes a lot - but also use email to my own reps and committee chairs. Generally you can't send an email through a webbased form on their sites unless you are in their district or state.
Don’t just send a form email, fax or letter. If they all look like they came from the same group or source, they receive even less attention. (More on this in the DO section below.)
Don’t YELL, don’t rant and don’t be rude! While you may be perfectly correct in calling the government officials involved idiots, or worse, it only brands you as a crank in staffs’ minds and your communication will receive much less attention. Using rude language or going off on an emotional rant will cause your communication to be downgraded even further, if not simply ignored.
Don’t get sidetracked by issues other than the exact one you are concerned about. Stay focused; stay on message.
Don’t send multiple copies of the same letter. Once your position is noted, it is registered in the Member’s database and is added to the regular pro/con reports given to him/her. Multiple identical letters actually diminish your impact.
Don’t expect an immediate reply or a personal reply. Offices representing large population states regularly receive 4000 to 6000 emails a day when hot topic issues are in the news. Most offices try to respond in 2-3 weeks, but that time can vary immensely. If you’re from Montana or South Dakota you might get a response in a couple of days, but these small population states are the exception. In almost all cases, you will receive a form letter response. Don’t take offense; it’s all that can be expected given the volume of correspondence the Member’s staff must deal with.
Do made phone calls. The follow up with an email.
Do write. Seriously, you can make a difference, but only if you act. You can’t depend on someone else.
One of the few things politicians understand is votes and numbers. Every call, email or letter counts and staffers tell us even one or two can tip the balance in some cases.
Do send an e-mail, but the most effective way by far is to use the Web form on the Senator’s or Representatives website (in fact, for most Senators that’s the only way to send an e-mail). These e-mails are formatted for easiest processing and are the easiest format of communications for the staff to handle. By all means, if you cannot send an email, write and send a postal letter, but email is preferred. If you must write, typed is preferred over handwritten.
Do State what you want very simply at the beginning so they see that even if time prohibits reading a long letter.
Do give them as much personal information as you care to share as that makes it easier for them to identify you as a constituent and also to reply to you.
Do be as polite as you possibly can. It does make a difference in how seriously your communication is taken.
Do strongly state your position in a personal manner. Simply cutting and pasting your organization’s position into the email or letter, without personalization, lessens the impact significantly. Always place your personal comments at the beginning of the e-mail or letter.
Then you can put in the organization’s carefully thought out position statements. The software used in Members’ offices scans the text of incoming e-mails and letters and places repetitive texts in a “campaign” category, but generally only scans the first few lines.
Your personalization makes a big difference in the impact of your communication. Personalization means it will be read by a staffer and that is a huge advantage Take the time to truly make your first paragraph personal, why this issue matters to YOU. Write it yourself in your own words. This is critical.
Do be positive and assertive If you’re writing about a problem with a government agency’s position, don’t just complain, offer a solution, or at the least, make your criticisms and comments in a positive manner. Make it easy for them to help you.
Good advice for anyone making an appointment with a Reps office in addition to doing actual staff briefings. Too long to post all here so read the source at Daily Kos.
Brief length will depend on the format you are being invited to present in. But you will likely have 15-45 minutes. Sometimes less. Find out how long they are giving you in advance and the format.
In 95% of the cases it will be a crowded conference room, with piles of boxes full of "who knows what" correspondence and reams of reports the staff may or may not ever get to. In 5% of the cases it will be "Lunch and Learn", or "BrownBag Brief". These are gravy slots and usually are run by coordinated lobby shops who bring in brown bag lunches and drinks etc.
It is best in these cases to NOT have a PPT, unless you have PICTURES WHICH CHANGE THE STORY. I have only taken PPT to the hill twice. [...] The Hill is a 18th Century Animal. It is Verbal. If you do get a BBB a PPT may be good. Otherwise, it isn't.
The staff is generally very young, very smart, and very committed. They get paid little and work insane hours. 7AM - 11PM 6 days a week is common for LAs (Legislative Aides). Only one of the LAs, maybe two, in the room will have any depth of knowledge on your subject. The others will have a broad brush understangin and they are there to support the committee chair and come away with enough talking points and basic understanding to make sure their Members does not get blindsided and/or can answer basic questions. Most of them do two hours of paperwork in the AM. Attend 6-10 hours of meetings, and then have to convert what they learned into lines of legislation and talking points for members after they are done with that.
All of them have heard Industrial Health Care Lobbyists present them slick cover stories many, many, many times. And within 24 hours of your appearence, every one of those staffer will get several phone calls from the Lobbyists of Industrial Health with detailed counterpoints to whatever you bring.
So be specific. Be highly factual. Be clear.
BULLET: Citizens need Health Care, and Healthy Lives, not Wasteful Private Health Insurance.
- X% of money in US Health Insurance is Profit.
- Y% is used up on the admin and process of Health care itself.
- In Total Z-Billions a year is spent on these companies with NO HEALTH BENEFITS to citizens
Arrive 10 minutes early. Give your card to the receptionist and tell them you will wait in the Hallway until called. The offices are tiny, and while they have "waiting couches" or sometimes just one chair, the staff find it chilling to have a person waiting who they don't know, and don't know how to speak in front of. Let them work. Just hover in the Hall. Hopefully you will have a friend or fellow Kossack with you, and go over your high points again. Have them down cold.
In your hands will be a folder. That Folder will have enough copies of a ONE PAGE BRIEF.
- The brief will have your contact data, date and appt time at the top of the sheet.
- It will then have subject key points, listed in bullet form. No more than Five.
- Then you will have ONE SHORT PARAGRAPH, even just one good Sentence, and one good fact to support each of those points.
If you provide this sheet. 90% of the people you brief will use it. Those key things you have put there WILL end up in many many speeches and talking points.
If you provide even TWO sheets. You die. Few of the staff there have time to figure out the 3-5 key high points. That is your job.
Then touch the points, but don't read them.
Say: "I have brought you a key-points sheet with some core talking points for your Members. Thank you for the time. I know how insanely busy you all are. I was told we have X mintues, has that changed? Or do we still have X minutes? " (They will likely give you a new number, and they will really respect that you asked.)
Then say: "While you review the One Pager, I will better flesh out the key points and facts here, by sharing with you some larger themes, annecdotes and cases of the "Death By Spreadsheet" being inflicted on the public."
And then let it rip. Don't be scared. The Hill is not for the scared. It is loaded with Type A, Brilliant, Busy and Tough humans.The kids sitting in front of you...and most will be kids...have been briefed 100s, perhaps 1000s of times and they see every possible horror, opinion, lunacy and pablum possible.
You are passionate, a little extremist, definitely progressive and a tinge angry. Let the ALL out. Be you. And let it rip. And do not be afraid of being extreme. Remember. You are likely to be the ONLY fly in the soothing ointment of 10-50 briefs .....
Then, in a seperate folder you will have a 5-20 page "heavy" brief. At the end of your X time, .....you offer it to anyone who might want it to have a hard copy of the heavy brief,...
If it goes well. Over the next month you will have the bizarre experience of seeing/hearing the bullet points you have wri
Thanks Claudia! Great suggestions.