Does Advocacy Make a Difference?
The answer is YES!
To start from the beginning, check out our Advocacy Basics: What is Advocacy? section for more tips and tools! This page has tips to make the advocacy work you do the most effective.
The Pecking Order:
Staffers in Congress place varying degrees of importance to the communications they received based on how long it took the constituent to prepare it - the more thought that went into it, the more important the issue is to the constituent.
Why Old-fashioned is Best:
When possible, you should always communicate with your members of Congress through old-fashioned mail - this shows them the greatest degree of effort. When letters stack up in a congressional office, they know it is an issue that is important in their district. So when it comes to Congress, nothing beats the tried and true snail mail.
Because not everyone can set up an appointment with their member of Congress, letters still remain the most traditional and relied upon contact between constituent and representative. Congressional staff will also respond in writing to every letter that comes into their office, which gives you the opportunity to get your representatives on record regarding their position on your issue. Members of Congress respond as well to faxes and email, although some offices are still catching up to the benefits of the electronic era.
Where to send your letter: You can get addresses and phone numbers for your members of Congress from the U.S. Capitol switchboard by calling 1.800.839.5276. To get a fax number, you will need to call the member's office directly. You can also check out congressional webpages for contact information, including email addresses. For members of the House of Representatives, go to www.house.gov. For senators, go to www.senate.gov.
To Fax or Not to Fax:
Sending a fax is a close second to sending a letter by post. Because they are printed out, they still pile up and have a similar effect as letters. Faxes also have the benefit of ringing like the phone. When a fax machine is constantly ringing and printing out letters, the whole office takes notice. But because a fax is less personal than a letter, they do not get quite as much attention.
The Low-Down on Email Advocacy:
Every office in Congress responds differently to emails. Because many emails are mass produced and easy to send with the click of a button, some staffers pay little attention to email. It is also less common for a congressional office to send a response with their policy position to emails. However, some offices are catching on to using email, and keep active track of how many e-mails come through on each issue. As time passes, Congress will become more responsive to email - but it's not there yet. Sending your emails encourages them to become more responsive in the long run, but it might not produce the desired outcome in the short run. It also has the benefit of being extremely convenient for the user to make thier voice heard.
Tips to make your communcations the most effective
Say It Like You Mean It: Because congressional offices receive hundreds of letters a week, always try to personalize your letter. While we hope you'll take advantage of the materials we provide on our website, the rule still holds that the more your letter stands out, the more attention it will receive. Tailor your letter with your own language and any special concerns that you might have. Because congressional offices receive so many letters, they also have standard response letters that they return to you. If your letter is personalized, you increase the chances that you'll receive a more personal response. And if your letter raises the issue in a way that can't be responded to by a form letter, then staff have to take the time to craft an individual response - that's ideally what you want. Because every individual response has to be approved by the member of Congress or their senior staff, an individual response forces your issue to the desks of decision makers. So personalize those letters!
Identify Yourself: Always begin each letter by stating that you are a constituent. This will let the staffer know right away that they need to pay attention to your letter.
Get to the Point: To make sure that your letter gets the most attention from the staffer reading it, make sure that you put your request at the very beginning of your letter. By the second sentence, you should identify the issue that you are writing about, and how you want your representative to act on that issue. Because staffers read so many letters from constituents, it's important to grab their attention right away. Don't be afraid to state your positions strongly. Use bold to highlight your opinions!
Clear as a Bell: You should always be exactly clear on what piece of legislation you want them to co-sponsor, how you want them to vote on a particular bill, what letter you want them to sign, or what issue you want them to become active on. The more specific your “ask,” the more you force them to take a specific stand on your issue.
Short and Sweet: One of the reasons constituents write letters to their members of Congress is to inform them of their opinions. Another reason is to educate them on an issue important to you. Always include the relevant facts and arguments to your issue when you write - but remember that you probably won't keep their attention for more than 1-2 pages.
Getting a Response: Although it is standard practice for congressional offices to respond to all constituent mail, always be sure to clearly state that you would like to hear back on how you are going to be represented on your issue. This lets the office know that their response matters to you.
Adapted from the website of the Latin American Working Group.