Making Your Communications with Policymakers Count – Tips for Effective Advocacy
How do I start? A good way to begin your letter or e-mail is by introducing yourself as a constituent. If you are not a constituent, be up front about it. It is okay, especially if directed by an organization that you support, to write (from time to time) to a lawmaker in a leadership position. This introduction should also include groups you represent and support. Including that you are a Lutheran does matter! Legislators are aware of the work Lutherans are doing in communities. This gives our advocacy greater credibility.
Next, briefly sum up what you would like him or her to support or oppose. Stating your reasons for support / opposition: Your points should be genuine. You are not trying to prove that your position is superior. However, if you are aware of the policy maker’s position (due to a newspaper article, op-ed or letter to the editor, their website, etc.) and believe their position is based on some false assumptions, you can and should point those out in as polite a way as possible. Your position is exactly that, your position. It is important to speak out of your experience as well as your understanding of Scripture, Lutheran theology and/or the ministry of which you are a part.
What will make my letter / e-mail stand out? Personal stories about why you care enough to take the time to write are important. However, these should not be too long or too emotional. Painting a picture that includes both the challenges and the opportunities will help your elected officials know you are committed to an issue in a long term way. Your letter should be clear about what is happening currently without this legislation and what you fear or hope will happen once the legislation is passed.
- Your letter is one of many. It plays an important role in a bigger picture. The picture is less complete without your voice, but you do not have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders alone.
- Letters are important even if you think your elected official has already made up his or her mind. If your legislator is in agreement with your position but only hears from the opposing view point, he or she may be forced to take that opposing voice more seriously if that is the only constituent voice being heard.
- No public policy is perfect. You do not have to defend or agree with every word of a proposal in order to write in support. Most importantly you are speaking to the problem you have witnessed. If you know your elected official is in opposition to a specific solution, urge him or her to come up with an alternative proposal – then share your thoughts on that new plan.
Where to Find Contact Information and other Communicating Logistics
LAMPa’s website: Entering your zip code in the LAMPa Legislative Advocacy Center will give you all the contact information for both your federal and state elected officials. Remember, nearly all of the action alerts from LAMPa relate to your state officials, so be sure to click on the “state” tab!
PA General Assembly Website has a Legislator Lookup
Which office should I contact, capitol or district?
Even if you are trying to schedule an appointment in the district office, the office scheduler and the policy staff often work exclusively out of the capitol office. Always try calling there first, and if necessary, they will kindly direct you to the district office.
Letters being mailed on state issues should always use the capitol address in Harrisburg, unless you have been told otherwise by a specific office. However, sending mail to Washington DC is another story. If an issue is relatively urgent, mail your letter to a district office in the state. If you know that the issue will still be relevant in 6 to 8 weeks (yes, it takes that long to clear security!) the capitol address will be fine.
When in doubt, just call and ask! Legislative secretaries are happy to answer any questions about the best way for constituents to communicate with them. In fact, they will be pleased – because ensuring you communicate the way they prefer will create less work for them in the long run.
Is e-mail effective? Yes! Legislative offices are adjusting to the changing technology and recognize that many people put a great deal of time and effort into e-mail communication. This is particularly true at the state level, and even more so once you have a relationship established with the office. However, hand written letters remain a way for your communication to stand out in a crowd. The key is to make your communication as personal as possible. The less it seems like a form letter, the better. Remember, even form e-mails, when received in large numbers, can make a difference.
How important is formal formatting? Formal formatting is still a way of showing respect in our society. However, if formatting is holding you back, know that it’s not as important as making your voice heard. You need not make sure that every letter is addressed to “The Honorable Full name including Middle Initial” when a simple “Dear Senator or Representative Last Name” will suffice.
The most important part of formatting your letter is making sure to include your home mailing address. Even if you prefer to write on business stationary, make sure to include your home address if you are writing as a constituent and your place of business or your church is located in a different district.