Writing Effective Emails to Legislators
Perhaps the most long-lasting way to make your emails (or phone conversations if you prefer) effective with your legislators is to build up relationships with them – by meeting them in person at Quaker Lobby Day or in their home districts, following up with appreciative emails, and providing accurate and helpful information about the issues that concern you (whether from you personal stories or from study of the issue). In the meantime, here is advice from an experienced Quaker advocate:[adapted from “Write Effective Email to Congress” By Alicia McBride for the Friends Committee on National Legislation
Do emails to legislators work? While a single email won’t often change a policymaker’s position, email is a critical part of strategic advocacy for the policies you care about.
Your email inbox, like mine, is likely full of requests to take action. As I’ve written this paragraph, I’ve received two more action alerts.
I’m often asked whether it’s worth responding to these requests. Do emails to legislators “work”? I want to share why I choose to email my [state legislator] — and why I believe those emails have an effect.
Why Do I Email My Legislator?
Fundamentally, I send these messages because I believe my opinion is worth sharing with the people making decisions on my behalf. I don’t personally enjoy putting my views out to be judged — but, just as when I am given a message to share in Quaker meeting, sometimes the drive to share outweighs the fear of speaking.
After more than a decade of work with FCNL, I also appreciate the effect constituent email can have as an essential component of a strategy to influence a legislator — particularly if the email is well-written.
Tips for Effective Email
Here are some of the ingredients I’ve observed to be essential to have an impact in an office that receives hundreds or even thousands of communications a day, is understaffed to deal with them, and is trying to be responsive.
Use your own words. [Quaker Voice] often provides a sample message, but restating the main points will help your message stand out.
Ask for one action at a time. Convey your position in the first two sentences, making it clear the action you want the member to take.
Say something about yourself. Personal details — if you are part of a meeting or church; what you do for a living; your role in the community — help your message seem more personal, beyond just a form letter.
Say why you care about the issue. Sharing the impact of policy in a member’s community is important. If you have personal experience with this issue or feel strongly about the right course of action, share that passion.
Encourage others to act. The more voices your member hears, the more likely it is that the message will get through. [Quaker Voice] makes it easy to share alerts by email or social media.
Email as Part of Effective Strategy
I also believe that email is just one component of an effective strategy. My email, by itself, may not lead my member to act — but when my email is part of a mix that includes other messages, lobby visits, letters to the editor, and social media mentions, its impact is multiplied.
That’s why, as time allows, I do respond when an organization I support and trust asks me to email Congress. As far as[Quaker Voice’s] requests are concerned, I can tell you that we ask for action when we believe you can make a difference, based on the information our lobbyist gains from regular meetings [in Olympia].
To me, whether email [to a legislator] “works” is a matter of perspective. My email is like one tile in a mosaic — I can’t see the picture up close, but without my tile in the right place, along with many other tiles of many different colors, the picture wouldn’t be the same. Trying to keep the longer view helps me approach the emails that pop up in my inbox, not as an obligation or a distraction, but as an opportunity.