17. Generate successful calls and letters
Now that we’ve discussed how to get volunteers and allies to contact their policymakers, what exactly are you asking them to do?
The two crucial things that an activist needs to communicate to an elected official are: (1) the precise action that the activist is asking the official to do, and (2) why the official should pay attention to this particular activist, which, in almost every case, is because the writer or caller is their constituent.
Crucial aspects of a call
- The activist must identify him- or herself and provide information that makes clear that the caller is a constituent, at least by specifying the activist’s neighborhood and preferably by giving a street address.
- If the caller is not a constituent, he or she may still matter to the policymaker if the caller makes clear that he or she is an expert or influential person when it comes to this particular policy.
- The caller must give a concise, clear statement of what she or he wants the policymaker to do, usually by referring to the policy’s bill number or name. For example: “I’m calling to urge Senator Brown to vote AGAINST SB 123,” or “I’m calling to ask the Commissioner to vote FOR the Abortion Is Healthcare Resolution.”
- If possible, the caller should give a personal reason for his or her concern. For example: “My husband has to take a daily prescription that costs far too much.”
- If the caller reaches a staffer or voice mail, which will almost always be the case, he or she should keep the message brief—60 seconds or less. If the caller reaches a policymaker, he or she shouldn’t talk for more than about two minutes unless the policymaker asks questions.
- The caller should always be gracious and say thank you.
SAMPLE: “Hi, this is Betty Smith. I live in your district at 1234 Oak Avenue and I’m calling to ask you to vote FOR HB 567. [One sentence why: I think drug companies are charging far too much.] Thank you! [Optional: You can reach me at 404-505-6006.]
Crucial aspects of an email
- Just like a call, the writer needs to identify him- or herself, say he or she is a constituent and provide a home address to prove it, specifically state what the writer wants the policymaker to do, provide any particular expertise or personal reason the writer might have for their concern, and be gracious.
- Provide the key information in the email’s Subject Line. For example: “Please support SB 678.”
- Be a little formal. This is not like an email to a friend. Use standard fonts and format your note as if it were a business email.
- Do not write more than the equivalent of one typed page. It’s fine to make the email shorter as long as you provide the essential information listed above.
- Don’t include an attachment unless it’s really compelling or important.
SAMPLE: Subject line: Please vote for SB 678
Dear Senator Jones:
I live in your district and I’m asking you to support SB 678, which increases the penalties for hate crimes.
We have seen a recent surge in racist and anti-Semitic graffiti in our communities. In fact, I saw a swastika spray-painted on a wall on Chestnut Street just last month. If we are to stop the rise in hate, I believe we need to make it clear that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable. Enactment of SB 678 would help make that point.
Thanks for your consideration of this important matter. If you would like to reach me, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
1234 Oak Avenue
Woodlands, KS 66101
Crucial aspects of a letter
- Just like an email, the writer needs to identify him- or herself, say he or she is a constituent and provide a home address to prove it, specifically state what the writer wants the policymaker to do, provide any particular expertise or personal reason the writer might have for their concern, and be gracious.
- A letter is better if it has a subject line, for example: “RE: Please support SB 678.” This makes it easier to sort.
- A standard letter is the most appropriate way for an organization or non-constituent expert to endorse or oppose legislation.
- An organization’s or expert’s letter can be up to two pages long and might include an attachment, but a constituent should keep his or her letter to one page.
- A letter writer should make sure the return address is on the outside of the letter as well as the inside. In some jurisdictions, because of the anthrax-laced letters of several years ago, security personnel get nervous and may halt delivery if there’s no return address.
- Be a little formal. Use standard fonts and formatting like a business letter.
- In most cases, a letter has more impact than an email or call.
For all contacts with policymakers, the writer or caller must not seem angry, insulting, threatening, racist, sexist, or suggesting the policymaker is corrupt. The point is to persuade policymakers, not harass them.