How exactly does one call congress?
Part 3: but I can’t call congress
(This article is the last part of a series of articles. Please begin with Part 1: before the call.)
We at Silent No More Foundation are obviously sympathetic to the wild schedules that many people in healthcare and social services keep. Sometimes a phone call just can’t happen when you want it to happen. It is important that we address this barrier head on: if you can call on a different day, please call. Our call-in day is going to be fun, and we’ll hopefully pop up on some trending list somewhere in social media-land if we’re lucky. That’s why we plan these things to happen simultaneously: it drives word-of-mouth, and connects us all in an engaging, unique way, even if just for one day. The act of calling is far more important than the phone call being timely.
The reason why this is being emphasized here is that there really is a difference between a phone call and an email when it comes to delivering a message effectively. In one alarming article, the description of how poorly correspondence is handled in congressional office is almost bad enough to make us not even want to call. While tools like ResistBot and generic form letter software is a very convenient way to communicate a message in bulk, that isn’t a goal or objective that would be effective for our message. Passing H.R. 1309 is going to require a meaningful approach. Emailing leaves the possibility of simply skimming, or worse, finding keywords and generating an automated response. Getting an aid or congressperson to speak with you directly puts a voice on this legislation, a voice that is attached to a voter in a caregiving field asking for protection from violence.
This doesn’t mean that emailing is pointless or wasted effort. Email can tell a story and compel a person to understand a larger issue. If you find you are unable to contact congress at all by phone, emailing is still a viable option. You will still need to gather your research and ideas as mentioned in Part 1 and your message will be as mentioned in Part 2. (I encourage you to check those two posts if you haven’t read them yet. This third part will skip all that’s already been mentioned in those two.)
This run-down will be quick and easy. You need to share all of the relevant information you gathered in part one in a concise and impactful way. You need to hook the reader as soon as they read your subject line, then that first sentence needs to make them want to read more. This doesn’t mean to use a subject line that is ambiguous, graphic, or dramatic. In fact, direct and to the point is better. (I am resisting the urge to give recommended text to use for yourself as too many emails with the same language could actually decrease the effectiveness of your email.) Perhaps including the bill number would be helpful so they can search for your email at another time after initial reading. Basically, use a subject line that says up front what they are getting into when they open your email, and be sure to avoid wording that sounds like spam or bulk mailing.
The greeting on your email needs to be proper. It is correct to begin with, “Dear Representative [last name].” Triple check that you have spelled their name correctly. In fact, for emails of this importance, I tend to use Pages or Word to compose the message, and then I cut and paste into a fresh email. Be sure your text is consistent throughout – all the same size, font, and color.
For the body of the email, refer to your elevator speech, and be mindful of the length of your message. As recommended by this Medscape article, you might think about SBAR as a guiding structure to this email. For those of you who are not nurses, SBAR is a communication tool for physician/nurse conversations. The letters stand for Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation (or similar variations that may differ slightly). This can guide you in a meaningful, concise, and logical way through your message.
- Situation: Introduce yourself, state your occupation & constituency, and state your purpose for emailing
- Background: share why this is so important to you
- Assessment: Share what is important to know about H.R. 1309
- Recommendation: Ask them for support of this bill (read Part 2 for anticipated variations to this part)
Always end with a strong thank you. Thank them for the time and consideration they have given to your email. Only thank them for their support of the bill if they have actually supported the bill. In your signature, include your name, your credentials, your occupation, and your contact information.
A small note of importance: credentials in your signature do have a specific order in which they are meant to go:
This seems to be fairly universal across healthcare occupations, but this document specifically advises nurses, who tend to have many letters after their names. Be sure to display yours correctly as this is formal letter writing.
That’s a wrap!
My friends, this is where we part ways for the time being. I hope you have found these few posts helpful. Again, see below for some more links to help get your started. Good luck to you all on this awesome Call-In Day!
Some more reading:
- Getting Capitol Hill to Read Your Email: Quick and Practical Pointers for Emailing Congressmen & Senators
- AALL: Writing to your member of congress
- 5 ways to contact your elected officials and make your voice heard
- AAOS: How to Communicate with Elected Officials