Getting Personal...with Congress
I wanted to build on Michelle's post last week, Congress: Do They Hear You Now?, by zeroing in on something you should definitely be doing if you're at all serious about effecting policy change.
You should be doing everything that you can to make sure your constituents personalize their messages to Congress.
Michelle let us know that congressional staffers have software to sort identical messages into buckets - and that the Hill prefers that you identify your organization when facilitating citizen comments. It makes it easier for staffers to manage the ever-increasing flow of communication to legislators and to ensure that constituents get timely responses from their elected officials.
This means that if you have constituents that are sending the form letter that your organization wrote on your Action Alert, then at best they are getting sorted into two columns - Yes and No. Effective to a point, but only groundbreaking if you can generate a truly massive number of communications.
Let's look to the Congressional Management Foundation for some pointers here. In January, CMF published a report called Communicating With Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill. One of the key findings was that the delivery method doesn't matter so much as the content. Email and postal mail aren't viewed differently on the Hill anymore, as they once were. Instead, it's what the letter actually says. Go figure.
In fact, 20% of the staffers surveyed said personalized letters would have a LOT of influence over an undecided Member of Congress, compared to 1% for identical form letters.
Here are some suggestions for how constituents can personalize their letters:
Stories are golden. So how can you encourage your members to personalize their messages?
First, when designing an Action Alert in Convio Online Marketing, make sure that you choose the setting that allows constituents to edit the text of the message to decision makers. Some organizations choose to have a fixed header and/or footer for the message and allow the middle body of the message to be edited to include a personal story. Others allow the entire text of the message to be edited. It's up to you - just make sure there's a place for your constituents to tell their story.
Second, make sure you tell your constituents how important it is to personalize the communication to their Senators and Representative. You don't have to give them the link to the CMF report to make the case for it, but do make sure that they know that personalized communications make a 20:1 impact on the Hill. Heck, their story could be the thing that causes the elected official to decide to support your issue! People do things because they're asked to, and that includes personalizing a letter.
A third way is to profile someone else's story in your Action Alert email, or show them video of a Representative reading someone's story on the floor during debate. If you have permission to share their story on your website, then this could encourage others to be brave and share their story as well. Reading somebody else's experience can help spark a person's imagination to visualize sharing their own story. It can help to generate a "Me too!" effect and drive home the point that real people are affected by policy decisions.
What are some other ways that you get your constituents engaged in advocacy?
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