Communicating Effectively with Congress
It is important that your elected officials hear from you on issues that affect your business. Technology has dramatically changed the way constituents reach their elected officials, and if you want your message to be heard, it’s worth taking a few minutes to make sure you communicate effectively. The Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) recently issued a report called “Communicating with Congress/How Capitol Hill is Coping with the Surge in Citizen Advocacy.” Here are a few of their findings:
- Congress received over 200 million communications last year – up from 50 million only a decade ago – with the increase almost entirely in internet and electronic messages;
- There has been no significant increase is the size of Congressional staffs, so the same number of people are handling the increased volume;
- In order to cope with the huge increase in “mail,” staffs prioritize and distinguish what they believe is credible mail sent by constituents from identical mass or bulk mailings;
- It is worth taking the time to write because constituent mail does influence the decisions Members of Congress make.
So how do you to maximize the impact of your communications? The congressional staff members that CMF interviewed for their study provide the answer themselves. Here are some of their recommendations:
- Don’t send “snail mail.” Since anthrax was found in a Senate office building in 2001 all mail to Capitol Hill is sent first to a warehouse in the Midwest and X-rayed, resulting in a normal delivery time of two-to-three weeks; it is best to email your messages;
- Don’t send post cards or form letters; they are much less likely to be read or noticed;
- Be sure to include your complete name, address, and zip code;
- Include your reasons for supporting or opposing the legislation, don’t just say “vote no” or “vote yes”;
- Keep your message short – the staff has thousands of messages to answer;
- Make your message targeted and specific, not broad and generic;
- Clearly identify the issue or legislation (by bill number if you know it) specifically so that the staffer doesn’t have to do research to figure out what you are talking about;
- Explain how the issue will affect you personally and/or how it will affect your state, community, or business.
Please also remember that you should contact the Senators and Members of the House of Representatives in every state and district in which you have operations. If you don’t know who all of those representatives are, log onto the NAW website (www.naw.org) and click on the Tell Congress button. Click on any of the TAKE ACTION issues listed, type in the address of your home or business operation, and you will be taken to a page that gives you the names of your Members of Congress. While you’re there, why not write a letter to the Hill on one of the listed issues?