NMA E-Newsletter #111: Communicating with Congress (Or State Legislators)

In order to appear to be doing something, or to generate more donations, many large and prominent organizations distribute pre-printed post cards, petitions (on line and off), form letters, and questionnaires that will be subsequently sent to Members of Congress, State Legislators, The President, Governors, and or prominent agency officials.

These devices have next to no influence on decision makers or their staffs. I have personally sat in Congressional offices and watched these kinds of materials transferred from the “in box” to the “outbox” with no serious exposure to anyone’s eyes.

The short story is that this tactic doesn’t work.

For two reasons, email has become the communication channel of choice. It’s timely and it’s cheap. To prevent total swamping of legislative offices there have been technical walls erected to screen out non constituent email.

So, even if an affected citizen, or group of citizens were to be affected by a legislator’s action, their emails will be screened out if they are not also constituents. Of no less concern is the temporary nature of emails in that they are gone with one click, without even being fully read.

A personal letter, written by a constituent, in a thoughtful constructive manner, and sent through the regular US mail system will tend to stand out and be taken more seriously than an e-mail message.

The glitch is it can take weeks to reach a member of Congress. Because Members of Congress are so popular, people periodically like to send gifts, like packages of anthrax or containers of explosives. Consequently all Congressional mail is thoroughly inspected before finding its way to the intended recipient.

Members of Congress and State Legislators all come back to home districts, usually on a regular basis. You don’t need to go to Washington, DC or the State Capitol to meet with them.

Meeting dates can be arranged in their district offices where you can personally make your case on any issue you might want to raise. You can also meet with their district staff and discuss your concerns with them, the hope and theory being that they will relate your message to their boss.

Telephone calls can certainly convey a short message, like “please support HR 4356 because it is critical to my business.” However, more complex topics are better discussed personally or even in a letter.

Here’s the golden rule for communicating effectively with public officials:

How would you like to be communicated with if you were a public official? Which channel would be most likely to impress you and keep your attention?

Answer those questions and you will be on your way to effectively presenting your views to all public officials, elected and appointed.

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