We all know the feeling of an overflowing inbox, sifting through spam and promotional emails to decipher which messages you actually need to read and reply to. Now imagine you’re an elected official at the federal or state level and the number of emails you get. In Congress, it’s thousands per week.
But don’t fret — despite the high volume, there are specific steps you can take to break through the noise.
We’ll share a number of tips below, but one stands above the rest — make sure you’re sending letters to the legislator that represents YOU. If you’re an organization running grassroots campaigns and providing tools to advocates to send messages, make sure your tools make it easy to find their personal senators, representatives, governors, and state legislators. Legislators want to hear from their constituents and will mostly filter out messages that come from folks outside the district. The one exception to the rule is if you run a business in their district, like if you run a number of restaurant franchises or store locations. In that case, send advocacy letters to legislators who also represent your business addresses.
Why Should You Write an Advocacy Letter?
Advocacy letters provide a number of benefits in the legislative process.
Share Personal Stories with Legislators
When lobbyists meet with legislators and staff, they are often sharing the facts of the policy — how much money it will cost their organization, how many jobs it will impact, etc. But when an individual sends an advocacy letter, it provides a venue to share a personal story that adds color to a policy debate. Rather than the 30,000 foot statistics, it zooms down to how a policy impacts real people.
Even if a legislator is already on your side on how to vote on a particular issue, these stories still provide value. Legislators will often bring the stories they hear from constituents to committee meetings or floor speeches to try and convince colleagues of their argument.
Inform Legislators on Constituent Priorities with Volume
When a congressional office receives an advocacy letter, it gets organized using a system like IQ from Leidos where staffers can skim the messages and sort them into buckets based on the topic discussed. By assigning a topic, the office can get a pulse on what issues constituents are thinking about most.
If your issue isn’t as mainstream and covered in the media, sending a high volume of messages can be a great way to get attention to your issue as it forces the office to create a new option for categorizing letters and draft new messaging in response to those letters.
This is especially true in state legislatures. For Congress, the bar for a high volume of letters can be in the thousands, but for some state legislators, receiving 10 or 20 letters on a topic can make an impact on their prioritization.
Grow a Personal Relationship
By continually sending letters and other communications to your legislator and their staff, you can work to build a grasstops relationship with that legislator. As your relationship grows and the office recognizes your messages, you’ll be more likely to get a response and drive change with the office on the issues you care about.
Dos and Don’ts of Advocacy Letter Writing
By following these best practices, your message has a better chance of breaking through the noise.
5 Things You Should Do When Writing an Advocacy Letter:
- Personalize the message with your own story! The same sorting systems that offices use to tag letters to issues also recognizes when messages all use the same text. If you add your own personal story, the letter won’t get mixed in with the bulk tags and it’ll be more likely to get read individually.
- Any message is better than no message at all — if you don’t have time to personalize but have access to a form letter from an advocacy organization, it’s still beneficial to send something than nothing at all!
- Include your address in your signature to affirm you’re a constituent
- Be specific in your ask. Don’t just ask a legislator to “support” an issue, tell them what support means to you – a vote, a sponsorship, joining a caucus, or some other specific action. That way, you can hold them accountable to that specific action.
- Send thank yous as well as asks. While your letters will often ask a legislator to take a specific action— to sponsor a particular bill, vote a certain way, or some other legislative action — you also should take the time to thank them when they’ve done the thing you requested. This not only provides a positive tone to your messages to break up the stern messages legislators receive often, but it also shows that you are truly following the policy and aren’t just sending letters and moving on from your advocacy.
3 Things You Should Not Do When Writing an Advocacy Letter:
- Don’t send a letter asking a legislator to sponsor a bill if they are already a sponsor. Legislators get frustrated when they get stern emails from constituents asking them to take an action when in fact, they’ve already done it. When advocacy organizations use a tool like Quorum that integrates legislative tracking and grassroots advocacy, they can organize an auto-updating thank and shame campaign that delivers unique messages based on someone’s sponsor record.
- Don’t ramble — keep your message succinct. While there’s no word limit we’d recommend, you want to make sure the elected official can read your letter and understand your message quickly, as they have thousands of messages to get through amid an already busy schedule.
- Don’t send messages to legislators who don’t represent your address. Yes, we may sound like a broken record, but it’s important!
9 Steps to Writing an Advocacy Letter
1. Identify Yourself
Along with the logistics of sharing where you live, share more about yourself and why your perspective on an issue is important. For example, if you’re writing about healthcare policy, are you a healthcare professional, someone experiencing a health issue, or a caregiver? Sharing details on your relationship to the issue can help provide perspective to the official on who is impacted by an issue.
2. Identify and Address the Issue
If you’re writing about a specific bill, include the bill name and number so officials are explicitly clear what you’re referring to. Thousands of bills are introduced in Congress every year while state legislators see hundreds of thousands across the country. Make sure you’re clear which one you’re referring to.
3. Explain What You Would Like the Elected Official to Do
Then, make sure your stance on the issue is clear. Do you want the legislators’ support for the bill, or for them to fight against it?
If the bill is still in the early stages, you may want to ask for them to sponsor the bill to help move it through the early stages. If the bill is nearing a vote, you may be asking for their vote.
4. Include the Facts
The best advocacy letters include both facts and stories — a quantitative and qualitative balance to making your case. Facts you can add may include details on how much money you’ll save or lose with a given policy or how many people in your industry a policy will affect.
These facts may not be data that you have readily available, so reference advocacy organizations who align with your policy perspective to find resources they’ve shared that include data.
5. Personalize Your Letter
Along with the facts, include your personal story for advocacy on how this policy would impact you for the positive or negative.
If you’re trying to kill a bill, you may want to talk about the positives of the status quo and what’s going well now that this bill would harm.
If you’re trying to pass a new bill, you will want to speak either to the negatives of the status quo and the ways you’re harmed by a lack of change. Or, you could share details of what your future would look like if a key piece of legislation passed.
6. Address the Elected Official
Besides being your representative, why are you writing this official? Are they on a key committee? Has their whole state delegation in Congress supported the issue? This section of the letter will allow you to provide details on why this official in particular should care, rather than you writing broadly to anyone who would listen.
7. Ask for a Response
By telling the elected official that you would like a response to your letter, it shows that you intend to continue to follow the issue and hold the official accountable to their actions on the policy. While it might take a while to get a response, officials will typically do their best to reply to all constituent letters.
8. Edit Your Letter
Like any writing, you’ll want to make sure your letter is free of spelling and grammatical errors. You’ll also want to double-check your facts — inaccurate information on an issue may discredit your advocacy.
9. Follow the Issue
Writing an advocacy letter to an elected official is only one way to make an impact. By tracking the legislation closely, you can use other advocacy levers like phone calls or social media posts to drive stronger reactions at pivotal moments in the legislative process, such as when a vote is scheduled to take place.
Sample Advocacy Letter Template
Here is a generic advocacy letter template that you can use for planning your outreach:
Dear [LEGISLATOR NAME],
My name is [YOUR NAME] and I’m your constituent living at [YOUR ADDRESS OR TOWN]. I am a [PROFESSION].
I’m writing to ask you to [DESIRED ACTION] for [BILL NAME AND NUMBER].
[ISSUE AREA] has impacted me in a number of ways. [SHARE PERSONAL DETAILS + STORIES]. If you [TAKE DESIRED ACTION], [BENEFIT/IMPACT ON YOU]. If you don’t [TAKE DESIRED ACTION], [BENEFIT/IMPACT OF INACTION].
Along with this specific impact on my life, this will also have an impact on [GROUP/INDUSTRY/ORGANIZATION] at large. Here are a few facts I think are important to consider:
Along with these points, I believe you should [TAKE DESIRED ACTION] because [X DEMOCRATS] have also taken this action, including [Y LEGISLATORS FROM YOUR STATE]. As a member of the [COMMITTEE NAME], it is important your voice is heard on this issue.
I’m looking forward to a response from you and your team on your next steps for [BILL NAME]. If you have any questions about my experience with this issue, I’d be happy to share more.
Start a Letter Writing Campaign with Quorum
If your organization wants to make it easier for your advocates to write advocacy letters to their elected officials, look to a grassroots advocacy solution like Quorum Grassroots. With Quorum Grassroots, your advocates can:
- Easily identify the legislators who represent them
- Send templated letters from your organization or personalize them with their own story
- Learn more about the issues your organization cares about and why it’s important to take action with your own advocacy websites
- Earn points by sending more letters and continuing to participate in campaigns
- And more