Letter Campaigns

Letter-writing/post card campaigns

Letter-writing and post card campaigns, like phone and fax zaps, are a direct means of letting public officials and others know how you feel about a particular issue and what you want them to do. Like phone calls, they are counted and often used by politicians or agency heads to justify their actions. Without taking personal responsibility, they can then claim they were "responding to their constituencies." Like faxes, letters and postcards get extact entire messages across and yet are less expensive and more accessible to most senders. In contrast to phone calls or fax zaps, letter writing campaigns take more preparation and need more people to be effective.

Different types of letter and post card campaigns

Many large national, state, and local groups use letter-writing campaigns on a regular basis. Usually they send a letter to an extensive mailing list, explaining the issue at hand and asking people to write their own letters to specific individuals or a group. This type of campaign however, generally requires an established mailing list, and a large one. You must contact considerable numbers of people if you hope to extract a sizable response when you're asking them to formulate their own letter, write it, and mail it out. All of these are barriers to a large-scale response.

Another strategy is to provide people with a sample letter and ask them to copy it onto their letterhead or retype it on their own paper, changing what they want.The easiest method, however, is to provide a letter and simply ask people to sign and mail it. The likelihood is increased if you also provide a stamped, addressed envelope, although this raises the cost to your organization.

On the other hand, people who may not agree with the tone of the pre-written letter or with its exact position will not send it in. In addition, the person at the receiving end does not get "personal" letters. He or she is more aware that this is a "campaign" and may be less impressed. Still, the number of people sending in any kind of letter is a strong indication of community pressure.

If you do not have a large mailing list, you might make up letters for people to sign and go to community events, shopping malls, movie theaters, or other public places to solicit signatures. This type of campaign allows you to do face-to-face education. Generally, people sign the letters and you mail them to the targeted person. You can also ask those signing if they're willing to be on a mailing list.

Another option is to put pre-written letters (along with an explanatory note or fact sheet) in waiting rooms of clinics or other social service locations or at any community meeting place.

Each of the above strategies can be done with postcards as well as letters.

In every case, make sure you ask people to include their address on their letter when they sign it. This is one way to gauge the effectiveness, since most officials will send a reply if they get enough letters.

What should the letters say?

Letters should be direct and to the point. The tone of the letter depends on the nature of your concerns, the person targeted, and their relationship to you and the issue at hand. Some people prefer to write in a tone that is not demanding but simply makes a request for a set of clear reasons. Others can be more confrontational.

Whichever tone you choose, either in your own letter or in pre-written letters or postcards, make sure you are clear about the issues and the action you want taken. Also, if the targeted person holds elected office, you might ask people to mention in their letters that they are registered voters. If it's a pre-written letter, and is likely to go out to some people who are not registered voters, you can simply include a phrase like "As a resident of your district...."

How many people do you need? How long should the campaign continue?

Letter-wnting and postcard campaigns generally need a larger number of people than a phone or fax zap, but the total number will depend on the size of the locality. In some localities 25 letters can make an enormous impact; in others, hundreds are necessary. You'll have to be the judge. Decide on the number of letters you want and plan on reaching at least 30 to 100 times that many people in order to get the desired volume of letters, especially if you expect them to write their own letters rather than simply signing a pre-written one provided by you.

The length of a letter-writing campaign depends on its goal. Some are of short duration, focused on a specific issue or vote. Others may go on for months if the goal is less immediate. When you plan a campaign, give yourself enough time before the target date to develop and distribute the letters. If the campaign is a longer one, you might want to do staggered mailings so that the targeted person keeps getting letters throughout the duration of the issue.

How do you know the campaign was effective?

If an official responds with his or her own letter, you can assume he/she received enough letters to believe it warranted a response and, therefore, has gotten your message and your pressure. If you do a face-to-face campaign, asking people to send letters, the mailing list you develop is also a measure of your success. In all cases this type of campaign definitely is an educational tool for your community.

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