Saturday, May 16, 2015

Why a Personalized Letter Still Has More Impact

Why are handwritten letters more important than emails or even typed letters? They are all practical vehicles to convey a message to your legislator.

Handwritten letters are a sign that you care  so much about the issue that you are taking time to write it down on pen and paper. Elected officials care that you have given thought to the message that you are sending, and legislative staff  members will corroborate this. Here are excerpts from an article that appeared on the Bread website.
"In late October 2010, a group of Bread members and faith leaders from the Indianapolis area met with the office of Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN). Carson’s district director...was impressed that the letters were all individually written rather than just signed form letters or postcards and emphasized that personal, handwritten letters make the most impact..."   Read more
Other advocacy organizations like the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) are hearing the same feedback from congressional offices. "What we at FCNL hear from most congressional offices is that they give higher priority to individualized communications from people who have a specific request, say something about themselves, write in their own voice, and make a local connection," said the organization. 

Typing your message
I must confess that I feel much more comfortable behind a keyboard than with a pen and paper. My handwriting is sometimes (but not always) is illegible and I can put my thoughts on paper better when I compose on a computer or a laptop.  So I often write my letters at home, print them, put them in an addressed envelope and and bring them on the day of the Offering of Letters.

Regardless of whether your letter is handwritten or composed on your laptop or desktop, the important thing is that you're using your own words to convey the message to your representative or senator.  And this gives you an opportunity to include a personal experience with your message..

Blessing your letters is important
The personal letters also represent an act of faith, and the Offering of Letters is a communal action on the part of your congregation.  As one Bread regional organizer mentioned recently, letters can be blessed or dedicated by the pastor and the congregation before they are put in the mail, which is something you cannot do with e-mails. (In the photo on the left, the pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Albuquerque holds letters that were written by members of the congregation that year).

What about e-mails?
We must not  discard e-mails entirely. This mode of communication is especially important for requests that require immediate action--particularly when a vote is about to take place in the House or Senate.

What about an e-mail with a personalized message for an Offering of Letters campaign? This could also be an effective way to communicate with your legislator, although a personal letter might have more value, depending on the congressional office. And there have been a few surveys that indicate that congressional offices see e-mails as the preferred  mode of communication.

If you must send an e-mail, the same rules apply as the handwritten and typed letter: send a personal note instead of simply adding your name to a prepared message (which is more useful for action alerts). E-mails require that you supply a mailing address to demonstrate that you are a constituent of the congressperson or the senator.

An electronic reply
Some congressional offices are using technology to send a reply to their constituents.  As an example, I received a reply from one of my senators via an e-mail letter instead of a postal letter. Below is an excerpt of his response to my letter for this year's Offering of Letters campaign about protecting child nutrition programs.

Child nutrition is a critical issue and touches a child's development in many important ways. Good nutrition is the key to a healthy childhood and to ensuring that children can reach their full capacity for learning and growing. Making nutritional food available to our children and teaching them at an early age about eating healthy is a first step towards developing good health habits. 

Providing healthy, nutritional meals at school can also ensure that our children do not go hungry during the school day. This issue certainly hits home in New Mexico, which has some of the highest rates of hunger and food insecurity in the nation. More than 16.2 millin children in the United States live in households where they do not know where their next meal may come from. In New Mexico, it is estimated that over 146,000 children do not have adequate and consistent access to nutritious meals.

Please be assured that I will continue to advocate for our nation's overall child nutrition policy, and that I will continue to support policies that make available healthy, nutritious food and increase the health and education outcomes of our children.  -Excerpts from a letter from Sen. Tom Udall

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