A Guide to Letterwriting and Other Forms of Communication
- Click Here to learn about emailing your Member of Congress
- Click Here to learn about calling your Member of Congress
Writing a Letter
Members of Congress want to serve their communities to the best of their abilities and want to be re-elected. To achieve both of these goals, Members of Congress and their staff analyze and track communications that come into their office to gauge the support for or opposition to a particular issue, and to learn just how this issue affects the folks back home. Whether by letter, fax, email, or phone, sharing your opinion on an issue with your Member of Congress is an essential part of the political process. Here are some tips for effective communications with Members of Congress:
- Addresses to use for your Members of Congress (room numbers are not necessary):
|The Honorable xx
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
| The Honorable xx|
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Click here to look up Members' fax numbers and email addresses by first entering your zip code. Tip: Despite the Anthrax attacks of October 2001, many Members of Congress still express a preference for letters over email.
- Stick to one issue or two, at most. Don't dilute the importance of your main point by adding on lesser ones. On Capitol Hill, a letter or fax resembling a laundry list tends to get passed around from staffer to staffer, and risks being buried for good. State your purpose in the first paragraph, and keep with the theme throughout.
- Be specific. If you're writing about a particular measure pending in the Congress, use the bill's number and title. If you're unsure about that information, be sure to reference the Grassroots Advocacy Resource Center for more information on the issues. Also, the ABA Grassroots team is always here to help. Contact us at 1-800-BANKERS or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Be timely. Your insights on an issue are of little help to the Member of Congress if the vote was yesterday.
- Include your name and address on all communications including email. This may seem obvious, but it's important for two reasons: first, your address proves you are a constituent (most offices don't respond to non-constituent communications), and second, some offices reply to all constituent communications (whether they come in as letters, faxes, phone calls, or emails) the same way they always have - with a hard-copy letter sent through the U.S. Postal Service.
- Get personal. Remind the Member that you are both a constituent and a member of the banking industry. Don't pretend to wield vast influence. Just be yourself and say how you feel. Writing from the heart, in your own words with real-life examples, brings the issue alive for the Member. Above all, be sure to explain how the issue will affect the Member's constituents and your community at-large.
- Stand ready to generate mass mailings, faxes, emails, or phone calls if the situation demands such an effort. Many bankers pass out sample letters or postcards to their staff when heavy employee participation is essential on a legislative issue. Others ask their employees to send emails, or to make a few quick phone calls. During big legislative battles, Members pay attention to these groundswells of opinion. If you're unsure about when it's appropriate to "call out the troops," contact the Grassroots office for advice.
- Praise your Member when he or she votes your way. Everyone likes to be thanked, even Members of Congress. Irate complaint letters are always stacked high in a Member's office. A thank you letter or call gets special notice.
- Don't hesitate to voice your disappointment if you are unhappy with a Member's vote. Politely disagree. Explain your reasons in a professional manner. Never demand or threaten. This will not impress the Member and will undermine your credibility. Members know the potential electoral consequences without a heavy-handed reminder from you.
Most, though not all, Congressional offices are now able to receive email from constituents. Keep in mind that most Members of Congress do not personally check these emails. Rather, they are probably printed out by a staffer and then reviewed in much the same way that a hard-copy letter or fax would be. Therefore, don't be put off if you receive a generic reply to your email; some offices still respond individually to emails with a hard-copy letter.
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If you have established a relationship with your Member of Congress, you may find it very useful to have a personal telephone conversation about a particular issue. (The main Capitol switchboard phone number is 202-224-3121.) If the Member is unable to take your call, ask to speak to the Legislative Assistant (L.A.) who handles banking issues, and make sure to convey your relationship with the Member to this staffer. If you don't know the Member personally, it will probably be difficult to get him or her on the phone. Either discuss the issue with the Banking L.A., or simply leave your opinion with the receptionist. Sketch out your talking points in advance to keep the conversation on target.
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A final word about communicating with your Member: don't be surprised if the reply you receive from a Member is vague and noncommittal. Although this can be frustrating, many Members find it politically difficult to fall on one side or the other of an issue until the last possible minute. Yes, some are stalling, but others are genuinely undecided. The best you can do is accept this fact of Congressional life, educate the Member about your position, and emphasize that you are following the issue closely.