This section will provide you with tips on how to effectively communicate with congresspersons and their staff by letter, e-mail, telephone, personal visits, etc.
No matter which form of communication you use, there is a general process to follow to make your communication effective:
- Prepare before communicating.
- Develop a clear understanding of your purpose.
- Organize what you want to say in your message.
- Communicate your message in a simple, brief, clear and concise manner.
Writing to Congress
Heightened security measures have considerably increased the time it takes for a letter sent by regular U.S. mail to reach a congressional office or the White House in Washington. The best and fastest way to get your message to your congressperson is by fax, e-mail or telephone. A postal letter will take four weeks or more to reach Congress.
You may obtain a congressperson’s Washington or local fax and telephone number by going to the congressperson’s home page at thomas.loc.gov. To obtain personal e-mail addresses is more difficult. You may have to call the congressperson’s office, as very seldom are the e-mail addresses listed on the website or any other public document.
However, you can a send a short letter (100 to 200 words) by using the CONTACT page of the congressperson’s home page. The downside of this option is that on average a congressperson receives about 8,000 letters a month, and your letter may get lost in the shuffle.
Another alternative is to send the e-mail to the staff person who handles the type of issue that you are concerned with, e.g. foreign affairs and have that person bring your issue to the attention of the congressperson. You can obtain the staff person’s name and e-mail address by calling the Washington or local office of the congressperson.
When sending e-mail to House staff, the e-mail address format is: John.Doe@mail.house.gov.
For the Senate the format is: Jane_Doe@(senator’s last name).senate.gov.
You can obtain your congressperson’s name, address, etc. from the Thomas Guide on the Internet at thomas.loc.gov.
Letters To Congresspersons
Your letter should be simple, brief and to the point. It should not exceed one page.
The purpose for writing the letter should be stated in the first paragraph. If you are a constituent, you should state that up front as well (e.g. “As your constituent, I urge you to cosponsor the Black Ribbon Day resolution. H.Res. 555”).
If your letter pertains to specific legislation, identify the legislation by title and number (e.g. Border Security and Modernization Act, S. 79).
Address only one issue in each letter.
Briefly and clearly, without delving into numerous reasons or details, state the principal reason why the congressperson should support your request. This is the surest way to ensure that your letter will be read and understood.
Give your home address and preferably also your telephone number and your e-mail address.
Mail the letter to the Washington office. For maximum impact, within a few days follow up with a telephone call to ensure that the letter has been received and has been forwarded to the appropriate staffer. This also gives you an opportunity to talk to the staffer and to give him or her additional reasons to support your request.
Important Note. If you do not have access to a computer or typewriter, don’t let that stop you. Handwrite your letter. It is quite acceptable and welcomed.
To Address Your Correspondence
The zip code for the House of Representatives is 20515, for the Senate it is 20510 and for the White House 20500.
If you show the congressperson’s name on the envelope, the name of the office building (e.g. Rayburn House Office Building) and office number are not necessary and may be omitted.
Examples of appropriate address are as follows:
To the President:
The White House
Washington, DC 25000
The President, or Mr. President
To a Representative:
The Honorable…(First and Last Name)
Title (If the congressperson is a Chairperson or Ranking Member of a committee}
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Mr. or Ms. , or Dear Representative or Dear Congresswoman (Last Name Only)
To a Senator:
The Honorable…(Full Name)
Title (If the senator is a Chairperson or Ranking Member)
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Mr. or Ms., or Dear Senator (Last Name Only)
To a Staff Member:
Ms. Jane Doe
C/O The Hon. John Smith
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Ms. Doe:
Some staff members, known as professional staffers, work for the committees. In that case you’ll need to use the name of the building and office number. Again, use the Internet to find the correct address.
If you use the Contact letter box on the congressperson’s home page, the address Dear Senator (last name) will suffice.
If you send a regular e-mail use the same format and address as in a regular letter.
The switchboard number for the House and Senate is (202) 224-3121. The switchboard for the White House is (202) 456-1414.
As with your letters, the call should be brief, courteous, simple and focused.
Telephone calls are answered by a staff person.
Do not expect to talk to the congressperson; be prepared to speak with the aide who handles your issue. For Baltic issues, the person is usually the person who handles foreign affairs.
After stating your name, and identifying yourself as a constituent, state the reason for your call. For example, if you want the congressperson to vote “YES or NO on a specific bill, give the number and title of the bill (e.g. Immigration Modernization Bill, Senate Joint 87) and the action you want the congressperson to take. Be prepared to give your home address.
If the staff person is not available, ask for the person’s name and voice mail. Be prepared for this, know what you want to say. Leave a short message as to why you are calling and ask the aide to return your call. Do not rattle off your number, be slow so that the person on the other end can copy it . It is a good idea to start and end the message with your name and telephone number. You may also want to leave your e-mail address.
The same process applies when you are leaving a message on voice mail. As with all voice mails, you only have 20 or 30 seconds to leave your message. Prepare your message in advance.
Leaving a message with the receptionist is usually a waste of effort. Always ask to leave a voice mail.
The chances are that the aide will not return your first call. You have to be persistent, but not pushy. Call him or her the next day, and the next day until the aide takes your call or sends you an email.
It is advisable to follow your calls with an e-mail. It is more likely that the aide will respond sooner to your e-mail than your telephone call.
Visits To Congressperson’s Office
Meeting with a member of Congress or congressional staff, is the most effective way to get support for your issue.
Plan your visit carefully. When you request a meeting with a congressperson, you will have to go through the Scheduler or Appointment Secretary and you probably will have to submit a written request. In the letter, state the purpose of the visit and that you are a constituent. If you represent a group or organization state so. It is advisable to provide an estimate of the number people accompanying you to the meeting.
Generally, you should not have more than 6 or 7 people in your group If each person talks for 2 minutes, that’s 14 minutes. Do not ask for more than 20 or 30 minutes to present your case. The shorter the requested meeting, the more likely you are to get one. It helps to emphasize that you will not exceed the stated time limit. If you are prepared and organized, it should not take you and your group more than 15 minutes to present your case. Leave some time for the congressperson to ask questions.
Prior to the meeting, you probably will have submit the names and addresses of the persons accompanying you.
A day or two before the meeting, call the office to reconfirm the meeting Always be on time.
Whenever possible, bring to the meeting materials supporting your position. It is always a good idea to bring along a letter in support of your request to leave with the congressperson or staff.
If you represent an organization, you probably will be asked how many members you have in your organization. Remember, the more members you have, the better the end results.
If after a number of efforts you have failed to meet with your congressperson, settle for a meeting with a senior aide. The same protocol applies when meeting with the aide as with the congressperson.
Finally, you and the others in the meeting need to keep in mind that you are there for a purpose and only for that purpose. Focus on it. Never get engaged in political or philosophical discussions about other issues.