Writing Letters and Email to Government Officials
The two most common ways charities tend to communicate with government officials, especially when lobbying, is by writing a letter or email. Make no mistake—it is fairly likely that your letter or email will be briefly scanned by a staff member and filed away to receive a generic response.
But every now and then, legislators do spend the time reviewing letters and emails on certain issues. In addition, most offices do pay attention to how many letters and emails they receive on a particular subject. So, go ahead and write and email—a lot! While there’s no absolute right way to do it, here are some tips:
- In general, you only need to contact the government officials who represent you. If you live in Texas and write or email to the Senator from Louisiana, you can be assured that your letter will get thrown away and email deleted. Even if you’re communicating to the Representative who represents the district next to you, odds are your letter or email will be trashed or simply forwarded to your Representative.
- The only exception would be writing to the Speaker of the House or the chair of a particular committee on a very important issue. In rare cases, you might want to get a lot of members to write to or email an official and his/her office with letters and emails to show the grassroots support on an issue.
- Local impact is critical. As the saying goes, “all politics is local.” In any communication, but especially a letter or email, explain succinctly how the issue will not only affect your organization, but the local community. Use numbers and statistics whenever possible (“My organization feeds 5,000 people everyday, and Bill 1 will allow us to…”). Elected officials are supposed to represent their constituents, and most of them take that responsibility very seriously. The more clear and direct you can be in your description of the impact on the official’s constituents, the more impact your letter or email will have.
- If you’re writing from a sample letter, change the wording around or (even better) use your own words. Once offices begin seeing the same letter several times, they tend to ignore it. In addition, using your own words gives the letter your unique style of writing, an authentic voice that legislator and staff respect.
- AFP has partnered with Engaging Networks to implement an internet tool that allows AFP members (and non-members) to contact their Members of Congress online with the push of a button. This tool will include a pre-drafted template letter that can be personalized. AFP will send you an action alert when this tool is available for a particular issue.
- Use the first sentence to explain why you’re writing and the issue involved. (“Please support Bill 1.” or “I am writing to urge you to support Issue A.”) Otherwise, you are more likely to either have your letter or email ignored or annoy the staff person reading the letter or email. Neither are favorable outcomes for your lobbying efforts.
- If you know the legislator or spoke with him/her recently, mention that very early in the letter or email. (“It was great to see you at the event last Saturday, and I’m writing to follow up on our conversation about charitable fundraising…”). However, don’t be arrogant or stuffy about your connection or relationship with the official. And if you know the official, don’t mark the letter “Confidential and Personal.” You are simply asking for the first available staff person to open up the communication.
- Length is up to you, but don’t make it too long (more than two pages) unless you’re providing information about a report or explaining a very complex issue. Some lobbyists think very short letters are best. Others think longer letters are less likely to be perceived as form letters and staff will take a little extra time in perusing them.