Communications to elected officials whether by phone, postal letter or email is a measurement of opinion. Letters/emails can make a difference, but not all are influential. Many elected officials differentiate form letters/copied emails from personally written letters and emails. The more influential letters/emails are those that are personal, thoughtful and specific. Taking the time to write it demonstrates that the issue is more important to you than just sending a form letter or a preprinted postcard. Here are some do’s and don’ts in writing a convincing letter/email.
- Do write as an individual. Elected officials pay attention to personal letters from the constituents of the district that elected them. They recognize the time and effort you put into the correspondence. A personal email or letter will receive more attention than a form letter.
- State your subject in the first paragraph. If you are writing about legislation name the bill by number and/or title.
- Do keep your message simple and limit yourself to one page or less. State whether you are supporting or opposing the issue. Don’t make them hunt to find your opinion.
- Do make your letter/email timely. Send it before the elected official has to decide an issue.
- Do ask the elected official to do something specific. It is important to ask for a specific action such as, "Please vote for (or against) [number of the bill].
- Don't write letters that demand the elected official’s cooperation.
- Don't threaten, insult, lecture or ridicule the elected official you are asking to take an action.
- Don't adopt a politically partisan tone in your comments.
- Don't become a chronic letter writer. Pick your issues wisely.
- Don’t allege motives or question the honesty of others. Stick to explaining your views
How to address your letter/email correctly
Always address an email or letter to an elected official as “The Honorable …”
March 23, 20--
The Honorable Jane Doe
Name of office held (Governor, US Senator, Congressman, State Senator, Regent, etc.)
Institution (State of Nebraska, U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, Nebr. Legislature, Board of Regents, etc.)
City, State, Zip
RE: (Name the subject or name of legislative bill and number) Dear Governor Doe:
I write to encourage you to oppose/support . This issue is important to me because …
John Q. Citizen Street Address
City, State, zip
Notify the UNMC Government Relations office at 402-559-5768 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The UNMC Government Relations office can assist you in making the appointments and providing background about other issues to be aware of around the time of your appointment.
Tips for Meeting with Elected Officials and Staff:
- Be on time for the appointment. Most appointments are 15-20 minutes. Be friendly and keep introductions brief to allow enough time to talk about your topic. Be prepared to present your topic within 5-10 minutes. If you are a group, decide ahead of time who will lead the conversation for the group.
- State the topic and the 1-2 main points you want to make. Be specific. Use local examples. It is good to know the national impact, but your elected official needs to know the state or local impact to know why the topic is important to Nebraska or UNMC. Local examples or personal stories help make it meaningful.
- It is a conversation so give the elected official/staff person time to talk after you’ve presented the topic. Know with whom you are meeting and be generally aware of public comments they may have made about the topic. Let them explain their thinking and give them time to ask questions. Be aware there may be opposition to the topic and be prepared to answer questions, if asked.
- If you are asking the elected official to do something (cosponsor a bill, support a program, etc.) make sure you ask, otherwise it is just an informational meeting for the elected official.
- If you have handouts make sure they summarize the primary points and do not exceed 2 pages.
UNMC Policy on Politically Related Activities
Many times when you attend an association meeting or conference you will be asked to visit the office of your elected official. If you do, you are there speaking for yourself as an individual. You can explain the impact you believe an issue will have on UNMC, but you are speaking from personal perspective. Here is the UNMC policy on politically related activities.
UNMC Policy 5.2 -- Politically Related Activities:
- UNMC cannot and does not place any limit on the rights of UNMC employees to enjoy full exercise of their rights to speak and act as citizens of the United States and the state of Nebraska. However, public accountability demands that employees refrain from using state resources (telephone, work time, UNMC stationary, staff time, etc.) to lobby on legislative or other policy issues. Responsibility to one's colleagues requires that employees refrain from using their position at UNMC for lobbying and make clears that political expression is personal and does not represent a position of UNMC or any of its units.
- Employees of UNMC are free to testify or otherwise publicly comment on any issue of interest to them so long as they do so as an individual and not as a representative of UNMC.
- When speaking at a public forum,one must indicate explicitly that the comments to be made are of a personal nature and so not represent a policy decision on the part of UNMC.
- If written correspondence is used to advocate a personal position on public policy issues,it must be done on personal time without use of staff resources and on stationary that does not identify UNMC in any way. As with the public forum, the letter should indicate that the individual is not speaking on behalf of UNMC, but as an individual.
The importance of visiting funding agencies and learning about their priorities cannot be overstated, but a visit will be more successful if you have done the necessary groundwork before you visit and if you follow up on what you have learned after the visit.
The goal of a visit is to learn about what the agency can offer you – possible funding opportunities – and also for the agency to learn what expertise you can offer them. Important outcomes of a visit might include invitations to serve on a proposal review panel, committee, or task force. These are very valuable opportunities and you should take advantage of them.
- Background research to understand the agency's funding priorities:
- Thorough search of the agency's website for program announcements, special reports of symposia, workshops and task forces.
- Website search of National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for reports that foreshadow shifts in research priorities and important new initiatives
- Prepare a summary of research interests:
- Half-page to one-page descriptive CV or a CV in the format of the funding agency, i.e., NSF or NIH biosketch
- List of key publications (maximum one page) - these should be matched to the program you are targeting and may vary with different programs.
- List of your funded projects.
- Prepare one month in advance a two-page white paper on your proposed research project(s) that includes:
- Overall goal.
- Outline of the problem to be addressed.
- Gaps in the current research.
- Questions the proposed research will address.
- Potential impacts/outcomes.
- Select appropriate program officers, arrange for a visit and share your white paper with them at least one week in advance of the visit:
- Contact multiple agencies and multiple programs within agencies to determine the best fit and greatest interest.
Meeting with program officers
- Be prepared to give a brief, concise description - no more than 15 minutes long - of your research interests. The program officer will have your white paper, so you don't need to reiterate all of that information.
- Give the program officers ample time to comment on your research and to explain their programs. That is why you are there - to get their ideas. LISTEN CAREFULLY and take notes.
- Leave your business card with the program officer.
- Review and summarize your notes as soon as possible after the meeting.
- Prepare a summary report of the visit and submit a copy to the Vice Chancellor for Research, which includes:
- Agency you visited, name of program and program officers contacted.
- Brief overview of what you learned.
- Outcomes: funding opportunities, review panels/committees.
- Send a thank you note to each program officer/contact person. Continue to communicate with interested program officers as appropriate.
- Respond positively to any offers from the program officers to serve on review panels, committees, or task forces. These are important outcomes of your visit!