Thursday, October 10, 2013

Getting Your Legislator's Attention- in Writing!

Communicating with member of Congress is a useful advocacy tool that many citizens do not take advantage of. There are several ways to contact your members of congress including phone calls, letters, faxes, and emails. It is important to understand how to develop effective correspondence before you can deliver your message. Let’s begin by examining a sample letter that Marty Mcfly from the film Back to the Future might have written to his representative:

October 12, 2013

The Honorable Goldie Wilson
1630 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Congressman Wilson,

I am a constituent writing to respectfully request that your office submit a statement to the “Extension of the Remarks” section of the Congressional record regarding the 58th anniversary of the lightning strike on Hill Valley’s clock tower.

Construction of the Clock Tower began in 1885, while Hill Valley was still a small boom town during the California gold rush. On November 5, 1955, there was a violent thunder storm in Hill Valley that resulted in a 1.21 gigawatt lightning strike on the clock tower that froze the clock at 10:04 p.m.  30 years later, development groups tried to push the city council to tear down the clock tower. Fortunately, these efforts were thwarted in large part to the efforts by the local Hill Valley Preservation Society. Today, the landmark clock tower stands as a testament of Hill Valley’s staying power through the years and continues to be a great source of pride for its citizens.

The clock tower has been a major part of my life and my family’s lives. In high school, I performed weather experiments on the clock tower with my mentor, Doctor Emmitt Smith. My wife and I had our marriage ceremony in the park directly in front of the clock tower. My son, Marty Jr., spent many summer afternoons with his best friend, Griff Tannen, playing in the same park. For us, this clock tower is a monument in our lives and we proudly contribute our time and money to the Hill Valley Preservation Society to ensure the tower’s continued existence.

As the current President of the Hill Valley Preservation Society, I am happy to serve as a resource for your staff regarding any aspect of the clock tower including its historic significance or economic impact. I would appreciate a response to my request and I look forward to communicating with your office in the future.


Marty McFly

President, Hill Valley Preservation Society
1234 Chuck Barry Street
Hilldale Estates
Hill Valley, CA, 94952

Marty’s letter is a great example of how a constituent letter should be written. Let’s look at a four key components in Marty’s letter.

1.     Structure- Marty’s letter is written in business letter format. This is the appropriate format to use when writing to a legislator. Additionally, he referred to his Representative with the correct titles of “The Honorable Goldie Wilson” and “Congressman Wilson.”
2.      Ask- In any constituent correspondence, it is important to have a request, as known around the beltway as “an ask”, in order for the Congressional office to prioritize your correspondence. In this case, Marty asked Congressman Wilson to enter remarks into the Congressional record to commemorate a historical landmark in Hill Valley.
3.     Personal Story- After the ask and some background information, Marty included the most important component to the letter, his personal story. Adding your story to any correspondence will ensure that your message stands out by making it more personal and thoughtful. Your story will also provide the legislator with a picture of how an issue or a place is affecting his constituency.
4.     Relationship Building- Towards the end of his letter, Marty took a big step in building a relationship with Congressman Wilson’s office by offering to serve as a resource. Often times, legislators will be confronted with a controversial issue and will need to know how that issue impacts people in his or her district. This is when members’ offices will contact local resources to gain insight. This relationship would allow Marty to have an impact on his Congressman’s decisions as well as have his correspondence be prioritized in the office. 
5.     Ask for a Response- This is essential to include somewhere in your written correspondence. Generally, this will compel an office to send a response letter. The ask does not have to be long. In fact, Marty only included it as a single sentence at the end of the letter.

Please feel free to write any questions in the comment section and we will be glad to answer. Happy Advocating!