Don’t think your voice makes a difference? Here are some tips on how to make your communications more effective.
Crafting your message
Always be polite–speak or write calmly and concisely.
Address the person by job title: Dear Senator ________, Dear Congressman ______, Dear Representative______, Dear Mr. President ______.
Identify your issue in the beginning of your message and what action you want the government official to take. Put the topic in the first sentence, if possible, giving the title or the bill number of the proposed legislative action. Example: “Please vote against the bill that would open Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR) to drilling for oil.”
Address only one topic per message. Often the contact information is stacked up in pro and con stacks on a particular subject. You don’t want your second issue to be lost. Contact separately about it.
Put your name and address clearly within any written communication (perhaps phone number, also) or leave contact information clearly if you are required to leave a voice mail message when calling.
Tell why this issue matters to you personally. Be specific about how it affects you, your children, someone you know. Give details of the impact of the issue that make it matter to you. A personal message gets attention.
Sending your message
Do not use postal mail if you are writing to the President, Senators, or Members of the House of Representatives. Since the anthrax incident in 2001 all postal mail must go through a “cooking” process to kill anything dangerous so it will take a longer time to get your letter read—and it will be as fragile as old-fashioned parchment.
Letters in the mail get noticed at the state and local level. If there is no immediate crisis, a “snail mail” communication will probably be better than email as sometimes the email is not checked for a number of days (or even weeks) and is rarely printed off.
Do not use a form letter even if you think it says it so much better than you could. It will likely be ignored or at best put in a pile to be counted–maybe.
A form letter or a signing a petition from some group is better than nothing—but not much better. Do this only if you do not have time to write a real, if short, note of your own on the topic you care about.
For most, email is regularly checked (if not often) so do communicate this way and often with thoughtful comments that show you are informed on the issue and not just ranting.
Email is often ignored during a busy session so a phone call will be better if time is of the essence. This holds true for US Senators and Representatives, and state officials also.
When calling, you may be asked to give your comments to an aide. Be concise about the topic, why it matters to you and what action you want the official to take.
Hand-address the envelope being sent by postal mail to state and local officials. Aides rarely toss aside hand-addressed letters–it might be from a personal friend.
Type or hand-write on paper other than white (or with a unique letter head of your own).
Slightly curl the corner of the letter before you put it in the envelope so it does not get “stuck” behind another in a stack.
Your communications DO matter. At the state level if they get six or eight communications on one side of an issue they are likely to consider it a landslide as they so rarely hear from ANYONE on issues facing them for a vote.
League members are proud to be so well informed, but must remember that they do not speak for the League. At each level, the presidents are the only public voices of the League. If you mention your League membership, please make sure you represent League positions correctly. Review the State League Positions (pdf) and National League Positions to ensure your remarks are position based.
You can stay informed by tracking legislation at the state level at Open:States.
GovTrack is the only website that provides free research, tracking, and analytics on the daily activities of the United States Congress. Another alternative is Mega Vote where you can look up your lawmakers and track their votes via email. If you know the bill number and type of bill, use Congress.gov to track federal legislation.