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Tuesday, 30 September 2014
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Communicating with Congress Print E-mail

First of all, your Representatives and Senators do want to hear from you. The majority of their D.C. staff’s time is spent reviewing and answering constituent mail. How much of an impact your communication has can be significantly impacted by how and what you write. Our aim here is to provide guidelines to maximize your impact. It does take a little extra effort to do it right, but since so much is at stake, we hope you will agree it is worth the effort.

These guidelines were developed after consultation with experts who understand exactly how to get your message across to Members of Congress. You are certainly free to ignore them, but if you do, you are most likely wasting your time and potentially hurting our cause. Please, follow the list of do’s and don’ts below that will boost your chances of being heard in a meaningful way. We need every voice to count.

DON’T:

Don’t bother sending communications to Members of Congress that don’t represent you. Mail from folks who are not constituents is discarded or ignored.

Find your Members of Congress and their email, address, etc. here:


NOTE: DO NOT use the “one click” link to “Federal” on the results page or the Web mail link provided by CapWiz. Email from CapWiz will be classified as a "campaign" email. Click on each Senator and your Representative individually and use their own Web page email link.

Don’t send a postal letter or fax unless you cannot access e-mail or the Internet. All incoming letters are irradiated to eliminate possible biological threats and that slows down delivery by a few days to a week. Further, both faxes and letters require extra handling and processing that further delays their input and your message.

Don’t just send a form email, fax or letter. If they all look like they came from the same group or source, they receive even less attention. (More on this in the DO section below.)

Don’t YELL, don’t rant and don’t be rude! While you may be perfectly correct in calling the government officials involved idiots, or worse, it only brands you as a crank in staffs’ minds and your communication will receive much less attention. Using rude language or going off on an emotional rant will cause your communication to be downgraded even further, if not simply ignored.

Don’t get sidetracked by issues other than the exact one you are concerned about. Stay focused; stay on message.

Don’t call, unless the Member or staff is a personal friend (in which we need to talk ASAP!). Written communication is generally more effective.

Don’t send multiple copies of the same letter. Once your position is noted, it is registered in the Member’s database and is added to the regular pro/con reports given to him/her. Multiple identical letters actually diminish your impact.

Don’t expect an immediate reply or a personal reply. Offices representing large population states regularly receive 4000 to 6000 emails a day when hot topic issues are in the news. Most offices try to respond in 2-3 weeks, but that time can vary immensely. If you’re from Montana or South Dakota you might get a response in a couple of days, but these small population states are the exception. In almost all cases, you will receive a form letter response. Don’t take offense; it’s all that can be expected given the volume of correspondence the Member’s staff must deal with.

DO:

Do write. Seriously, you can make a difference, but only if you act. You can’t depend on someone else. Knife Rights alone cannot do it, you have to write. One of the few things politicians understand is votes and numbers. Every email or letter counts and staffers tell us even one or two can tip the balance in some cases.

Do send an e-mail, but the most effective way by far is to use the Web form on the Senator’s or Representatives website (in fact, for most Senators that’s the only way to send an e-mail). These e-mails are formatted for easiest processing and are the easiest format of communications for the staff to handle. By all means, if you cannot send an email, write and send a postal letter, but email is preferred. If you must write, typed is preferred over handwritten.

Find your Members of Congress and their email, address, etc. here:


NOTE: DO NOT use the “one click” link to “Federal” on the results page or the Web mail link provided by CapWiz. Email from CapWiz will be classified as a "campaign" email. Click on each Senator and your Representative individually and use their own Web page email link.

Do give them as much personal information as you care to share as that makes it easier for them to identify you as a constituent and also to reply to you.

Do be as polite as you possibly can. It does make a difference in how seriously your communication is taken.

Do strongly state your position in a personal manner. Simply cutting and pasting your organization’s position into the email or letter, without personalization, lessens the impact significantly. Always place your personal comments at the beginning of the e-mail or letter. Then you can put in the organization’s carefully thought out position statements. The software used in Members’ offices scans the text of incoming e-mails and letters and places repetitive texts in a “campaign” category, but generally only scans the first few lines. Your personalization makes a big difference in the impact of your communication. Personalization means it will be read by a staffer and that is a huge advantage Take the time to truly make your first paragraph personal, why this issue matters to YOU. We will provide suggestions, but write it yourself in your own words. This is critical.

Do be positive and assertive If you’re writing about a problem with a government agency’s position, as is the case here, don’t just complain, offer a solution, or at the least, make your criticisms and comments in a positive manner. Make it easy for them to help you. Knife Rights has provided you effective language to accomplish this in our sample letter.

Do please click here to send us an email (customs@Kniferights.org) to let us know you've sent the letter and emails. Because you are sending a hard copy letter and emails via Members' web forms, we won't know you did it unless you let us know. It is critical that we be able to know how many have responded.

 
 
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