The primary and simplest link between government officials and their constituents is the mail. Each year, millions of letters arrive on Capitol Hill, in state houses and at state legislatures. Of this blizzard of paper, only a small portion has a discernible impact on the course of legislation or policy. Consequently, the art of writing effective letters may make the difference between success and failure in your coalition’s campaign.
Limit Your Target
One of the errors made in letter-writing campaigns is to try to reach everyone. Particularly when dealing with legislative issues at the state or federal level, it is difficult to arrange for numerous coalition members to write personal letters to hundreds of legislators. It’s also not necessary.
Depending on the issue, focus on the narrowest possible group of government officials. Identify supporters who hold key positions through which they can influence the issue. Leaders of the entire legislative body as well as specific committees and subcommittees can be particularly important. For example, in the early stages of the legislative process, communications should be directed to the appropriate subcommittee and its chairperson, ranking minority party member, and members. Contact your own representatives, especially when they serve in these roles. Target similar key leaders as the bill moves through other stages of the legislative process.
When public funds are involved, as they often are in transit issues, most measures must be considered by the committee with jurisdiction over the subject -- such as a Transportation, Banking, or Commerce Committee) as well as by the committee with jurisdiction over spending, called the Appropriations Committee.
Finally, many bills fall under the jurisdiction of more than one committee. Be alert to this. Some of your most important supporters may serve on one committee and be unaware that the relevant legislation is pending in another committee.
A letter on behalf of you or your coalition should be addressed to a government official personally. Mail arriving at a public official’s office is typically routed through staff members with only a select few letters actually reaching the officeholder. To be most successful, your letter should be persuasive and to the point. The most effective format is a regular, typed business letter no longer than two pages. The letter should always include a request for action, such as supporting a particular bill or allocating funds for a specific project. State your message clearly at the start of the letter and then provide details of your personal story. Personal letters rather than form letters receive the most attention. The following format is recommended to ensure your letter effectively communicates the coalition’s key message.
- Identify yourself as a representative of a coalition that represents a variety of the elected official’s constituents.
- Identify the reason for writing and the issue(s) you wish to address.
- Highlight any relevant expertise you have on public transportation issues.
- Include information about the coalition (i.e. size, diversity of members, mission).
- State your views on the issue in your own words.
- Include a statement about the impact public transportation funding has had or will have on you and your community.
- Clearly state what you would like the official to do.
- Thank the official for his or her attention to this matter and offer to be available for any questions.