Communications Guide

Writing Op/Eds

A wonderful tool for raising awareness about your issue is writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper — or to the New York Times!

FCNL – Friends Committee on National Legislation — a Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest — has an Online Action Center that makes this easy.  You don’t have to know the name of your local paper or look up where to send your letter.  All you have to do is enter your zip code.  FCNL’s software is a handy tool for activism.

Go to http://capwiz.com/fconl/dbq/media/ — scroll down and enter your zip code.  A list of a few national and lots of local media contacts will appear – check all that you want to receive and publish your letter, then hit “Compose” at the bottom.  On the next screen, scroll down below their list of pre-written messages and select “Compose your own Letter.”

Compose the Subject and the text — remember, writing shorter is harder and much more effective. Personalize the issue as much as possible and make it relevant to the reader. Then enter your name and contact information.  Preview and edit your message at least 3 times before hitting that old Send Message button.
[source: wamend.org]

Communicating with Congress

“If a Congress Person has not already formed a solid opinion on a subject, then they listen to the views of their constituents through all kinds of means, including email and postal mail, visits, media reports, town hall meetings, and events. They take all that information from citizens and all the other information they have access to – including policy analysis, research provided by their staff, and, yes, information from lobbyists – and then they craft their views and policies.”

[source: Tim Hymon]

Do my messages reach Congress? Do they matter?

The answer to both questions is yes. Messages you send to Congress, reach Congress. When they arrive, they have influence. Studies conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation show that 94% of congressional staff members polled say that emails have a lot or some influence.

Do I Influence My Members of Congress By Sending Email to Them?

It’s important to note that congressional offices do like postal communications because it is easy to see that the constituent took the time to write a handwritten letter, but email is far easier for them to process and will ensure that your message arrives more quickly. The bottom line is that emails work, but they are most effective if they are personal messages rather than form messages.

How Can I Make My Emails More Influential?

  1. Personalize your message – Explain who you are and why the issue is important to you. Including personal stories about yourself and the district or state (for a Senator) makes you stand out to congressional staff.
  2. Be polite – Thank your legislator for previous votes, (find something you like) and courteously ask for her or his support on your issue.
  3. Be concise and make a specific request – Ask your legislator to cosponsor or vote yes or no on a specific bill.
    [source: Friends Committee on National Legislation]

If an organization suggests sample text for an email to my members of Congress, how important is it for me to edit that sample text and add information about myself?

It is very important for citizens to personalize the messages that they send to Members. Congressional staff members have revealed in our research that they place more weight on communications that convey how a piece of legislation will affect their constituents. While you might wholeheartedly agree with the suggested text that an organization provides for you, take the time to tell the Member why the issue is so important to you, personally. It’s not uncommon to then see Senators and Representatives go down to the Senate or House floor and say, “I received a letter from one of my constituents who told me how this legislation would devastate her small business.” Those are the letters that persuade Members.

What’s the most effective method for a constituent to share his or her opinion on an issue with a member of Congress?

Our research with Members and congressional staff shows that if a Member has not already arrived at a firm position on an issue, the most effective way to persuade her or him is through a face to face meeting.
[source: Tim Hysom, Congressional Management Foundation]

Useful Links

These links are easy to use: Click on them; scroll down to your legislator; get their contact information

For President Barack Obama: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact
For Sen. Dick Durbin: www.durbin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact
For Sen. Mark Kirk: www.kirk.senate.gov/?p=contact
For all U.S. Senators: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
For finding your Representative: http://www.contactingthecongress.org/
For U.S. House members: http://www.house.gov/representatives/
For general U.S. Gov’t information: http://www.usa.gov/Agencies.shtml
For the Illinois Governor: http://www2.illinois.gov/gov/Pages/ContacttheGovernor.aspx
For the Illinois Senate: http://ilga.gov/senate/
For the Illinois House: http://ilga.gov/house/
For Mayor of Chicago: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/general/contact.html
For Chicago City Alderpersons: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/about/war
For Cook County government: http://www.cookcountyil.gov/
For DuPage County government: http://www.co.dupage.il.us/
For Lake County government: www.lakecountyil.gov
For Will County government: www.willcountyillinois.com
For Kane County government: www.countyofkane.org
For McHenry County government: www.co.mchenry.il.us