Tips for Contacting
When you call an elected official, you probably won’t get to talk with the elected official. Just leave a message with an aide or on an answering machine. To avoid a busy signal, you may want to call in the evening, before dawn, or on the weekend.
Whether you call or send an email, please state your name and zip code. Identify the subject. You may want to personalize the message by stating why this bill is important to you. Mention any expertise in the area. Be polite and brief. State how you want the representative to vote. Never be mean or insulting. You probably won’t be asked to justify your request. If you reach an aide, he or she will most likely just thank you for calling and promise to let the elected official know you called.
SAMPLE MESSAGE: Hello, my name is William Brown and I live in Florida in zip code 34748. I urge Representative Smith to prevent gun violence by supporting background checks. I am a gun owner. Responsible gun ownership includes background checks. I urge Representative Smith to vote yes on House Bill 123.
Tips specific to sending email.
- Put Your Name and Address at the Top of Message.
Representatives and staff do not have time to read messages from people who are not constituents, so it is vital that you make it clear that you live in the district.
- Humanize Your Message.
This is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your e-mail makes an impact. Many people are uncomfortable sharing their feelings or talking about their own experiences or believe that such information is inappropriate. Yet, it is this information that separates one’s message from the standardized, bulk messages drafted by interest groups. These messages are more likely to be read than simply tallied.
- Be Brief.
Members of Congress and their staff are extremely busy. Respect their time and try to tell them only what they need to know. One or two paragraphs should be sufficient. Do not feel that you must make every single argument. Focus only the strongest points.
- Be Clear About Your Position.
Your request should be stated as a concrete, actionable item (e.g., “I would like you to support H.R. 100”).
- Don’t “Flame.”
You can disagree with your member of Congress, but you will not be effective if you abuse or threaten them. Abusive letters seem more desperate than intimidating to the recipient, and they are seldom taken seriously.
- Avoid Attachments.
Congressional offices rarely print or read attachments to e-mail. Offer to provide supporting documents on request but avoid sending attached files.
- Establish Your Credibility.
Explain if you are an expert in some area. Also, do not shy away from saying that you are either a personal supporter or a party supporter (but never imply that because you voted for somebody or contributed money to their campaign that they owe you a vote).
- Don’t Lie.
Political professionals are adept at spotting a tall tale. Any story that sounds too perfect or any statistic that is not substantiated will not bolster your position.
- Don’t cc Everybody.
Resist the urge to send a copy of your message to every member of Congress. You will persuade no one and annoy everybody. A legislative office wants to know that you have appealed to them for specific action, not just sent them a copy distributed to all.
- Proofread Your E-mail.
Too often the speed of sending e-mail is reflected in poor grammar and sloppy spelling. Even if a congressional staffer can determine your meaning, such errors reflect badly on your overall argument. Take a break before you press “send,” and proof your message.
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