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Communicating With Your Policymakers

To influence policymakers, you must be able to effectively articulate information in a concise manner. There are many options available for communicating with policymakers: email, letters, telephone calls, and tweets. Do not underestimate the power of social media! Most senate and congressional staff are young and read your emails and follow Twitter! As new issues arise, the NCWE Government Relations website provides sample letters, emails, and tweets to support your advocacy efforts.

If you have updated your NCWE membership profile, the website automatically provides you with the names and contact information for your legislators. To find the contact information for your Member(s) of Congress, login to your NCWE membership page and select "Profile Home” on the right hand rail of the webpage. If you have not updated your profile (your legislator's information will not be available on your profile home without an updated address in your profile), then visit the NCWE districting webpage:

Nonetheless, whether you write, email, tweet, or call, some basic guidelines are applicable to all methods of contact.

Writing Letters or Sending a Fax
Be Prepared and Concise
Know the issue(s). Know the legislation or program you support and the impact it will have on your college, local community, and, if appropriate, on the nation. If the subject is a bill, cite it by both name and number. Try not to use acronyms of clichés. Most importantly, be concise! Public officials and their staff have limited time to devote to one issue. A one- or two page issues brief that summarizes your points is likely to be read. The NCWE Government Relations website is a good place to find issue briefs or links to other organizations providing issue briefs. If you don't have an issue brief, use statistics and facts whenever possible. In this age of accountability, numbers matter! Legislators pay close attention to numbers and the effect policy has on numbers of individuals in their districts.

Use Appropriate Address and Salutation
Use the correct title, address and salutation and spell each correctly. The following forms of address and salutation are recommended for Members of Congress (It is not necessary to include the room number or street address when writing to your Members of Congress):

  For a Senator:
  The Honorable (insert full name)
  United States Senate
  Washington, DC 20510

  Dear Senator (insert last name):

  For a Representative:
  The Honorable (insert full name)
  U. S. House of Representatives
  Washington, DC 20515

  Dear Representative (insert last name):

Be Specific
State the action you want the policymaker to take, such as: vote in a certain manner, introduce legislation, or co-sponsor a bill or make a floor statement. Again, try to refer to a specific piece of legislation by its number. If you believe the legislation is wrong and should be opposed, say so. Indicate the adverse effects and suggest a better approach. If the policymaker expresses support for your position, hold him or her to that commitment and ask them if they need any additional information from you.

Be Positive
Policymakers, like most of us, respond best to praise, not criticism. Tell them you supported them in the past (if you did) and how you need their help. It is extremely important to acknowledge their previous support on this or other issues.

Ask for a Reply
When they do reply – and they usually will – write again. Compliment positive actions taken or encourage reconsideration of negative actions or those not taken. When a public official differs from your position, his or her response may include such language as "careful study,” "due consideration,” or "keeping your comments in mind.” These are often negative indicators and do not show commitment. Write back for clarification. Doing so lets the policymaker know that you are serious about the issue and are following his or her actions carefully.

Writing E-mail
Although e-mail may not have the same visual effect as a pile of letters or a jammed fax machine, its speed is unmatched. While letters, faxes and phone calls are still extremely important advocacy tools, the advent of e-mail gives you one more option in communicating with policymakers. Coordinated e-mail campaigns are now an established advocacy tool that is increasingly used by interest groups and individual constituents. Its main advantage is the ability to get your message delivered promptly compared to perhaps finding your public official's phone lines busy, especially when an important vote is imminent. Its disadvantage is the possibility that your message won't be read in time or at all. With that possibility, it is prudent to have an effective statement in the subject line of the e-mail in case it isn't read.

When sending an email, use the same guidelines as when writing a letter and include:

Summarize Your Views in the Subject Line
Make it short and efficient. For example: "YES ON S. 2.” Staffers will always see the subject line in their e-mail windows.

Keep Content Short
Limit your message to a few paragraphs. E-mail is designed for quick messages, not lengthy discussion. It's best to use bulleted points, as in a fact sheet. Otherwise, the same rules hold true as with letters.

Sending Tweets
Social media is a quick and effective way of communicating with your policymaker and making your views known publically. Staffers follow Twitter. And if the message is right, staffers may re-tweet your message to their contacts. For example, NCWE tweeted a representative about sequestration in October 2012. That tweet was resent by a staffer to 72,000 other individuals!

If you want your tweet made public, put a period (.) in front of the policymakers twitter name. If you want your tweet to be private, do not include the period.

To support your efforts NCWE will develop sample tweets when issues important to workforce and economic development arise. Additionally, the Campaign to Invest in America's Workers and the National Skills Coalition are two good resources to check for sample tweets.

Calling Policymakers
If you want to make an immediate impact on an issue, use the phone. Staff and policymakers can't avoid getting the message from a constantly ringing phone as the time of a decision on a major issue approaches. Hours of steady rings have been known to change the response from "thank you for calling” to "the Member of Congress is definitely backing the proposal.”

For contacting your Member of Congress, find your legislator's phone number either by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at: 202-224-3121 (Senate) or 202-225-3121 (House), or visit the NCWE districting webpage:

Once connected to the office, ask to speak to the staff member who handles education or workforce development issues (depending on what program you are calling about). Local officials may not have a staff member to field calls and may answer directly, but high-ranking public officials rarely take calls directly until you get to know them. After you have identified yourself, tell the staff member the reason you are calling—remember to keep your remarks short and focused. Once again, offer to serve as a resource and send the staffer additional information. Finally, remember to say "Thank you for taking my call and considering my views” – even if they disagree with you.

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