Writing Effective Advocacy Letters

By Chris Micheli

A key skill for successful lobbyists is being able to write effective advocacy letters that will be persuasive to decision-makers. Those that are most persuasive usually come from a credible source, which could be an interest group or a constituent.

An initial matter is to develop your message regarding how state legislation or regulations will affect your business or industry. Be prepared to tell a unique story. Be familiar with data about your industry and business. Describe the impact of a proposed bill or regulation on your business or industry.

Some of the key considerations when communicating with legislators or other decision-makers in writing:

Decision-makers appreciate hearing real-life stories that illustrate key points. Share your experience, but keep the message simple. Be organized in your letter and present your points in clear and concise terms. Do not assume the decision-maker is familiar with your industry or the issue at hand.

Personal, well thought-out letters from individual constituents can be a very effective means of communicating with decision-makers. A large quantity of constituent mail about a specific issue always catches a legislator’s attention. Identify yourself as a constituent because politicians are more likely to respond to constituent mail.

Be brief and simple and try to keep the letter to one page or two at the most. Always state your position in your opening paragraph and again in the closing paragraph. It is important to personalize your letter because form letters generally carry less weight. Virtually all communications are viewed first by staff and, given the volume, if they find something too cumbersome, they are more likely to put it aside.

It is invaluable to be professional and courteous, even if you intensely disagree with the politics of your elected official. Express disappointment in a calm, professional way and always include what reasonable action would be necessary or helpful to win back your support.

It is important that your letter open strong with language that addresses the key points and demands the attention of the reader. Focus on your key messages and top priorities so that you have a better chance of enacting changes.

Finally, some of the key points for effective advocacy letters as suggested by the California Chamber of Commerce:

Use your business letterhead when communicating your position on a bill.

Keep your letter short. A succinct, one-page letter will have more impact than a longer one. If you have documentation of the bill’s impact on your business, enclose it, but keep the cover letter short.

If you know the bill’s hearing date, be sure to include it.

Get to the point of your letter quickly, including your support or opposition position in the first sentence of the letter.

Provide concrete, credible information on the impact of the bill on your business.

Elected officials prefer to hear from persons in authority, so the highest ranking person in your organization should sign the letter.

Address the letter to the bill’s author with copies to the members of the committee hearing the bill, as well as your local elected representatives in the Assembly and Senate.

Indicate the bill you are writing about by bill number and author, as well as a short phrase describing the bill, and whether you support or oppose the bill. This will help identify the proper staff person to review your letter.

Be sure to make clear for whom you are speaking.

If you have a personal relationship with the elected official to whom you are writing, then take a moment to hand-write an additional note at the bottom of the official letter.

Be sure to send copies of your letter to the Governor’s office, Department of Finance, and committee staff to ensure that the appropriate persons review your correspondence as well.

Use boldface type, italics or underline sparingly to emphasize important points.

Act promptly on writing and sending your letter so that it arrives before a vote is taken.

Later, if the legislator responds to your request, be sure to send a thank you as well.

Chris Micheli is a Principal with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law in its Capital Lawyering Program.

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