The effectiveness of grassroots form emails—messages that advocacy organizations draft for supporters to send to their legislators’ offices— is a consistent hot topic of discussion between members of Congress and advocacy organizations looking to impact the issues they care about. Nevertheless, they are a continued practice amongst advocacy campaigns. So how can you streamline your advocacy efforts while also attracting the interest of the members of Congress you are trying to reach?
We asked Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA-16)—what is the deal with form emails? Do you read them? If so, when? How can advocates stand out?
The same thing that makes a form email easy for an advocate detract from a member’s willingness to weigh the message heavily—the quick process it takes to send.
“We get form letters all day and they really mean very little, right, because all you need to do is just click a button,” Costello said.
The perception is that it is too easy to send a form message—if a constituent really cared about an issue, they would take the time to reach out personally.
While Costello’s office may spend less time reading form emails than it does personalized emails, they play an important role in weighing the importance of a given issue relative to other causes and in identifying the constituents that care about a particular issue.
Costello’s office records the issues constituents have emailed about so that they can communicate with those constituents about advancements in a particular issue.
“I think the value of the form letter campaigns is we’re able to identify our constituents who care about certain issues so that in the future if we may have something to say about that issue we know who to send it to,” Costello said.
A form email is especially effective when the messages are organized by local organizations, such as the local chapter of a national organization.
“There are form letters or communications we receive that are organically organized within our own congressional district, it could be a group of teachers,” Costello said. “You could see a group pop up that cares a lot about that issue and all of a sudden we know here’s a couple hundred people that have a real deep passion on this particular issue.”
Costello is consistently trying to localize issues—sharing narratives with his colleagues on how his district is impacted by an issue, or show his constituents why he is voting a certain way that hits close to home.
“We come down here, we vote, we have a voting card... people see us as these creatures of Washington,” Costello said. “The more we can sort of step outside out of that caricature into the local member doing local things listening to local concerns trying to respond in a way that makes a local impact, that is why most of us ran for office in the first instance, so you taking something and localizing it is actually helping us do what we want to do anyway.”