Have you ever wondered what protects your rights to email your Congressman and tell them exactly what you think? It’s the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution—it doesn’t just protect free speech, it also has a neat little section called “The Right to Petition,” that says, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech… or the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Although we may take it for granted, that “redress of grievances” is exactly what lets you email your Congressman and share your thoughts, concerns, and ideas. The founding fathers couldn’t have dreamed how much technology would change the world. 1791 may have seen you putting quill to parchment, but the principles and practice of how to write to congress are pretty much the same as they were 200 years ago.
Put that feather down! Here’s the SaneBox Scoop on how to email your Congressman.
Figure out exactly who you need to write to
The first step is to work out if it’s actually your Congressman you need to contact. If it’s a state or national legislative issue, then your Congressman is probably your best bet. If not, it might be better to write another elected official—your mayor, township, governor or state agency. On a federal level, there are hundreds of agencies, government functions, and other areas that might deal with your grievances (or praise).
A little Google-Fu will help you figure out who is best placed to read, respond, and act on your concerns.
Once you know it is your Congressman, decide if it’s at a state or federal level
Because of the way the government is organized in the U.S., you need to decide if you should write to your state congress or the federal congress in Washington. If it’s a local issue—one impacting your city, county, region, or state, it’s likely your state’s congress that deserves to hear from you. For national issues, it’s the congress on Capitol Hill that’s going to get your missive.
Learn who your Congressman is
If you don’t already know who’s representing you in your state or the U.S. senate, it’s time to find out. The website of the U.S. House of Representatives has a handy zip code lookup area that lets you find your Congressman. Bafflingly, there is no central place to find email addresses for representatives in the U.S. House (Boo! Hiss!), although they do all have websites where you can contact them.
You’ll have more luck emailing your state Congressman directly. Open State lets you search for your representative and gives you their direct email address. Handy.
Gather together the information, opinions, and concerns you want to share
Before putting hand to keyboard it’s worth collecting your thoughts and opinions and outlining them. Think about the key points you want to get across to your Congressman, why they matter to you, and what you’d like you representative to do.
Do some research and find unbiased facts, figures, and statistics to support whatever points you’re making. If you have quotes from others, or you know more people who feel the same way you do, get that information together too.
The more time you spend planning and outlining your email, the better it will be.
What to include in your email to your Congressman
Here are the key areas you’ll want to include in your email.
Put the main information in the email subject line—for example, if you’re writing about specific legislation, include the title of the legislation in the subject line.
Address the Congressman by name—start the email with Dear Congressman / Congresswoman [last name].
Introduce the email and clearly state exactly what you are writing about.
Explain the situation, your thoughts and opinions on it, and why it matters to you—how does the legislation or the topic of your email impact on your life and that of others?
Quote your research to backup your key points, that means relevant facts, statistics, and quotes, together with links to verified, authoritative sources.
Explain any other secondary concerns or questions you have, together with their impact.
Make sure you tell them any questions you want them to answer, include those at the end of the email.
Close the email by thanking them for their time and telling them you look forward to a response.
Include your contact details, including a phone number and physical address if you want a response.
Hints and tips on putting your email together
When it comes to writing your Congressman, there are a few techniques you should use to ensure maximum impact.
Don’t ramble—congressional offices have an avalanche of correspondence to dig through. Keep your email short, sweet, and to the point.
Tell them why it matters—you need to create a connection. Tell them the impact this particular topic will have.
Stay on target—keep your email focused on your one, central issue. While you might have plenty to get off your chest, limit each email to just one topic. If you want to write about more than one thing, use a separate email for each.
Be nice—yes, it can be tough. But writing professionally and keeping a civil tone will help you get taken seriously.
Really, be nice—you may be upset, stressed, extremely concerned, or raging. While it’s fine to mention this in the email, don’t let your emotions drive your writing. Never threaten.
Proofread your email—get rid of gnarly typos and punctuation problems by proofreading your email a couple of times.
Include your address—you will be treated more seriously if the Congressman’s staff know you live and vote in their constituency.
Be persistent—don’t be afraid to write more than once, If your initial email doesn’t get the response you need, keep at it.
It’s unlikely your Congressman will see your email, but that’s OK
It’s extremely likely that while you’ll “officially” receive a reply from your Congressman, they won’t have actually read your email themselves. That ask will fall to their army of staffers, interns, and legislative assistants. They’re responsible for reading, researching, and responding to emails on the Congressman’s behalf.
Don’t let that disappoint you. The staff still gather together all of the key points, concerns, and other areas that voters send in and report them to the Congressman, so there’s every chance your email is contributing.
Send the email and wait for a response
That’s it, you’re ready to go. Spend a quick moment thanking the founding fathers for your right to petition, and click “send.” Now, you wait for your Congressman’s office to write back to you.
Of course, if you’re a SaneBox user (and why wouldn’t you be?) you can use our handy SaneReminders tool to remind you to follow up if you don’t get a reply.
So there you have it, the SaneBox scoop on emailing your Congressman, and not a quill in sight!