Well-written, thought-provoking letters from members of the community can influence a legislator’s decisions. Just a couple personal letters into an office over a short period of time can bring an issue to the attention of your legislator and have a big impact.
Usually the response to your letter will be a standard letter reply. Since congressional offices receive hundreds or even thousands of letters and emails each week, staff do not have the time to send personalized replies in most cases. The important issue is whether the reply answers your questions or responds directly to your request for the legislator to take a certain position. If it does not, write again and request a clear answer.
With increased security on Capitol Hill, postal mail can take anywhere from four to six weeks to reach your legislator. If your message is urgent, such as related to an upcoming vote, send a personalized email or fax instead. Follow these simple steps to ensure your letter is as effective as possible:
1. Address your letter correctly. Be sure you have the correct address and salutation on your letter. You can find the address of all of your legislators here by simply entering your zip code. Following the directions on the legislator’s website will ensure your letter goes through the proper channels and is read by the appropriate person.
2. Write to the legislators for whom you can vote. Elected officials are most interested in your opinions if you are their constituent.
3. Address only one issue per letter. A letter that addresses one specific topic will have more impact and receive a quicker response than one covering multiple issues. If you have professional expertise on the issue you are addressing, be sure to describe it.
4. Ask for something specific. Ask the legislator to take a particular action, such as cosponsoring a bill or taking a leadership role on an issue. Ask the legislator to state his or her position in a letter of response.
5. Keep it short. To make sure your letter is read rather than skimmed, make your points quickly and concisely.
6. Make it personal. Tie the issue to your personal expertise or experience, or to the district or state represented by the legislator. Use your own words.
7. Use your institution’s letterhead, if applicable. If you work in an academic, private, or government setting, consider sending your letter on your institution’s letterhead. While you should be clear that your opinion is a personal one, using our institution’s letterhead will grab the reader’s attention and help to establish your credibility. Be sure you are allowed to use letterhead on correspondence of this nature before your drop your letter in the mail.
8. Be courteous. Rudeness will always alienate your reader.
9. When appropriate, express your appreciation. Like anybody, legislators appreciate an occasional “well done.” Furthermore, in this manner you signal that you are paying attention to your legislator’s activities.
10. Include your return address on your letter. By including your address in the letter, the reader will know that you are a constituent and will know what address to send a response to.
Before beginning to write your letter, check once more that you are writing the proper policy maker. If your bill is in the Mississippi legislature, write your senator (for a Senate bill) or Representative (for a House bill) in Jackson. For a bill in the US Congress, write your Mississippi Senator or Mississippi Representative in the Senate or House in Washington, DC.
The body of the letter may follow, to some extent, this script. Be sure to make paragraphs in your letter each time you change topics.
1. Identify yourself
• My name is _____ • I vote in District _______ • I am a senior at The University of Southern MS
• As a _____ [position] • I ______ [describe your expertise]
2. Make connections, find commonalities (make true statements only)
• Thank you for serving as my legislator
• We are both dedicated to serving others. I think we also share an interest in improving the quality of life for children & families in MS.
3. Build relationships—Show appreciation, express your concern
• I appreciate that you are willing to listen to my concerns; let me tell you about my concern with…
4. Identify the policy
• I am interested in policy…
5. Clearly state your position of support or non-support
• I support (do not support) this policy because…
6. Tell effect of policy on children and families
• Use anecdotes, pull heart strings
o As a caregiver of children, I see children every day who…
• If you can, tell a story (anecdote) that supports your position
7. Support with research from the articles you read
• As an early childhood professional, I read the research in our field. Research says… (explain research your read)
8. Compliment if you can do so honestly and sincerely
• I appreciate that your voting record shows you support what is best for children…
9. Request a response by asking a question
• What is your position on…?
10. Thank policy maker (make honest and sincere statements, only!)
• Thank you for the time you have given me today and for your work promoting a high quality of life for MS’s children & families.
11. Offer expertise
• As a senior at Southern Miss [or, a member of the MS Early Childhood Association], I have expertise in this field. If I can provide you with additional information, please let me know.
12. Tell expectation
• I look forward to your voting “yes” (“no”) on policy ___.
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