Resources‎ > ‎How to Take Action‎ > ‎

Writing to Elected Officials

Why Write?

  • You have something to say, an opinion to offer, a story to tell, a request to make, a question to ask.
  • Letters Influence: Frequently mail is light on an issue, thus making your letter very significant. If mail is heavy, yours may be very important to offset heavy mail with a different opinion.
  • Constituent communications are more influential than the media, government information sources, lobbyists, and many other forms of communication.
  • Your stories and pleas both change attitudes and votes, but also support and reinforce.

Whom to Write

  • Those officials you elected are always most responsive; therefore, write your State Senator, State Assemblymember, and Governor for New York State issues, your President, Senator, and Representative, for federal issues.
  • Occasionally, the elected leaders within the Senate and House and the related committees also need to hear from you. Learn who those people might be for the issue that concerns you.
  • Members of the administrative or executive branch responsible for implementing the program or caring for the issue that concerns you.

When to Write

  • Early in the session to raise the need for responding to a concern.
  • Later on to address specific legislation and the issues being debated.
  • As the legislation is being considered in committee, on the floor, or before the President or Governor for consideration.
  • Often enough to be known and respected - but not too often to be a pest. Get others to write to increase the chorus of voices on an issue.

What to Say

  • Spell name of official correctly. Use accurate title.
  • Write your own letter, don't use a form letter unless you adapt it to personalize it.

Rules for Effectiveness  

  • Be brief! Short paragraphs, too! One page, if possible.
  • Be positive! Avoid criticism, veiled threats, name-calling, personally judgmental statements. Express appreciation for recent speech, vote, or action indicating both your courteousness and your knowledge.
  • Address only one issue in a letter.
  • State who you are.
  • State what you are writing about, what you want done. Come to point quickly. Be specific.
  • Give reasons for your concern, commitment, request. Draw on personal experience, specific situations. Identify impact of the issue on people (your family, your community, people in other parts of the world.) Identify the human justice aspect of the issue.
  • Ask specific questions. The more specific and original, the more thought provoking and the more thoughtful the response. Also ask, "How do you plan to vote?"
  • Summarize and restate main points in last paragraph.

What about mass produced mailings?

  • Mass produced postcards do not get the same attention as your personal postcard. Your personal postcard does not get the same attention as your letter.
  • Petitions receive less attention than your personal letter.
  • Use FAX only if it must arrive same day - then follow up with "hard copy" of the letter.
  • Any of the above are better than nothing, but use good judgment.

What happens to your letter?

  • Each letter is read quickly to identify issue and viewpoint and forwarded to appropriate staff.
  • Staff assesses content of mail, persuasiveness of points made, volume of opinion, and summarizes the information.
  • Quotable phrases, stories, and statistics are forwarded to legislator/Member of Congress for use in meetings, speeches, and hearings.
  • A reply is prepared: computerized if responsive to your letter, personalized if your request or question is unique. If the response is vague, evasive or misunderstands your message, write again.

Oh, yes!

  • Write back. Ask follow up question, provide additional information. Find out which staff persons works on your issue and address that person directly, too.
  • Write a "thank-you" letter when you appreciate action! 


Comments