Letter-writing is a very effective tool for advocacy. Elected officials keep numbers on how many people a letter represents; for example, Edmonton City Councillors think of one letter as representing 100 people. Therefore, letters are a very effective way of convincing an elected official that your issue is important electorally.
You do not need to send the letter via snail mail; emailing letters is just as effective. That being said, staff in MP’s offices often pay more attention to a handwritten, mailed letter, since they have to take the extra time to open it and read it.
Why write an advocacy letter?
To encourage a specific action or outcome on an issue
To discourage a specific action or outcome
To remind government officials of opinions that citizens hold
Letters ARE considered when officials prepare their votes!
To praise actions taken by officials, local community groups, etc.
Should I expect a response?
Yes! Most people will respond to you, including politicians.
If you are sending an identical letter that many others are also sending (a form letter), be prepared to get another form letter in response.
Nine Steps to Composing Persuasive Letters
1. Identify Yourself as a Constituent
Put your name and complete address on both the envelope and the letter.
Legislators will only feel compelled to respond to constituent mail, so it’s important to establish immediately that you live in the district.
2. Use Proper Forms of Address
Be sure to get their title correct, e.g. Prime Minister, Minister of the Environment, Councillor.
Use “The Honourable” in the address and the office title in the salutation.
Courtesy is important and will make the legislator or staff more receptive to your message.
3. Be Brief and Simple
Keep your letter to no more than two pages. Try to stay to one.
In the first paragraph, state your purpose and what you want.
Avoid the temptation to be comprehensive in explaining the legislation and making all possible arguments.
4. State (and Repeat) Your Position
Make your position and/or request clear in both your opening and closing paragraphs.
Be specific. State what action you want. If you want to advance a piece of legislation, say so. If you want to know the legislator’s stand on an issue, ask what it is.
If you want support on a particular issue, request it and a response.
5. Personalize Your Message
While form letters, postcards, and petitions are read and counted, they don’t carry the weight of a personalized, individual letter. Sign the petitions, etc. But for added weight, send a personal letter.
Persuasive constituent mail humanizes issues by placing them in a local, personal context.
When sample letters are provided for your use, incorporate your own words and personal perspective into the text.
6. Be Polite and Avoid Ultimatums or Rudeness
Everyone responds better to praise than criticism. Threats and ultimatums do little to convince a legislator to adopt your position.
If a legislator does take the course of action that you suggest, send them a note of thanks. This will only help build your long-term relationship with the legislator and staff.
7. Do Not Enclose Additional Material
Additional reports or newspaper articles are rarely read or filed. If you have a particularly useful resource, mention it in your letter and offer to provide a copy upon request.
Overwhelming an office with paper runs the risk of your letter being discarded along with the offending pile of paper.
8. Do Not Exaggerate or Lie
Stick to your facts and experiences.
Stories or facts fabricated to prove your point only run the risk of undermining your credibility. Many legislators and staff become adept at spotting a tall tale.
9. Make Your Message Timely
Don’t procrastinate. Your letter is not helpful if it arrives after a vote.
Be aware of the legislative process (is the bill in committee or coming up for a vote on the floor) and time your letter accordingly.
Sample letter template:
Your name and address (or Letterhead)
Name of Politician
Title of Politician
Address of Politician
Salutation (Dear X),
1st Paragraph: Let the reader know what your concern is.
2nd Paragraph: The situation and the facts: You need your reader to realize the importance of your concerns and the facts that support your cause. Try to be as brief as possible, while explaining the most compelling reasons for action.
3rd Paragraph: Possible solutions/What you want done about it.
Closing Paragraph: Thank the reader for considering your request and provide a way for them to respond back to you. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you about this issue.
City, Province Postal Code
Sources: Sierra Club of BC and the University of Alberta Students Union
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