For this installment of our advocacy series, we are going to talk about best practices when you write a letter or an email to your legislators.
While snail mail and electronic mail are different mediums, they are essentially both a letter, so the rules for writing them are one in the same. As mentioned, letters can be more impactful, but if you are contacting your legislator about a time sensitive issue, email will be your best choice.
The first thing you need to ensure is that you are writing to your legislator, meaning the member who represents the district in which you live (or work). Legislators get hundreds if not thousands of letters and emails a day, and if they know someone is not in their district, they often ignore it. You can use PIA’s find your legislator tool to make sure you are contacting your representative.
Once you found who to send your message to, it is time to write it. If you have it, write your letter on personal or business stationery. It will likely include all your information—name, address, phone number, and email—all of which is important to include, so if you do not have such stationery, make sure you include your contact information.
If your letter or email is part of a mass advocacy campaign, like the ones PIA runs on our legislative priorities, it is important to make personalized edits to the form letter. Never just send a form letter as written. While it will include key information about the legislation and its general impact/need in the state/country, a form letter is written to apply to large numbers of legislators—if not all of them.
A personalized touch by the sender will add value to the information sent to the legislator and will help him or her to understand how the issue impacts the district and constituents specifically. Legislators and their staff members hate receiving hundreds of identical form letters, mostly because they don’t show anything specific about how the issue impacts people in their district, which is what they care about. Even just adding a few lines to the beginning of the message will help distinguish your letter.
If you are not sending a form letter, make sure you include the following information in your letter or email:
- explanation of the issue and how it affects you as an agent and/or consumer;
- identify the bill number;
- whether you support or oppose the bill; and
- your ask.
Your ask could be for the member to sponsor the bill, to push leadership or a committee chair to put a bill on an agenda, or for the legislator to vote for/against the bill in committee or on the chamber floor. Regardless of whether you are mailing a letter or emailing it, you should send it to the member’s capitol and district office.
More in the Advocacy series
- Part I: How to be an advocate with PIA
- Part II: How to be an advocate, giving your time
- Part III: How to be an advocate, donating
- Part IV: Advocacy tips for calling elected officials, legislative staff
- Part VI: Advocacy tips for meetings
- Part VII: The do’s and don’ts of advocacy
Katherine “Kat” Slye-Hernandez, Ph.D.
Katherine “Kat” Slye-Hernandez received her Ph.D. in political science from the State University of Albany, Albany, N.Y., in May 2020. She also has her Master of Arts from SUNY Albany and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History from Elmira College, Elmira, N.Y.