Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tips on successful letter writing [redux]

According to Elizabeth May, formerly Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, now leader of the Green Party of Canada, in her book "How to save the world in your spare time" (2006), letters to politicians are more effective than emails, post cards or petitions.

"Because so few people take the time to write a letter on an issue that concerns them, politicians count each letter as representative of the views of far more citizens. A letter to a federal politician is seen as representing thousands" (p.90-91).

A handwritten letter is the best, typed is okay, but an email is often only glanced at or automatically discarded by employees.

When the time line on writing to the Health minister and/or the PM in support of Insite is short (as with the exemption last fall) a fax of the letter with the original following in the mail will be the most effective means of contacting a minister and/or your MP regarding Insite.

If you choose to write to one of the other ministers I have listed back in Aug, an email to their office may have some effect as they are likely recieving less/no mail on this issue. If you only have time to send emails, send several and make them unique. Here are some tips gathered from various sources:

Maximize efforts by identifying key players. In this case, Tony Clement, Minster of Health, Prime Minister Harper.

No stamp necessary if you write to their House of Commons address (although some websites say that Constituency offices are more effective, this is only the case if your return address is in that riding).

For MPs: Provide a return address and let them know that you live in their riding. This will provide you with much greater credibility in their eyes.

**Student Nurses: Our voices are super-powerful: We are only writing (on this or any subject) because we have an interest and emotion behind writing. Unlike others who may write, we have no vested interest other than we recognise what is the right thing to do and feel strongly about it.**

It is worth writing to your MP even if s/he or their official party line supports your view. If the issue ever came up for debate or vote in the House your letter would count as the voice and opinion of constituents.

Keep the letter relatively brief—no more than 1 ½ pages – typed or hand written.

Tell them why this issue is important to you, what you think should be done, back it up with facts and/or references and ask for a reply.

Illustrate the key messages by telling your story in your own words—this will have a much greater impact than any pre-written communication they received in the office.

With that in mind, back in August I included other Ministers in the cabinet to whom you may want to write and let them know why this issue matters to you, how you think it relates to their office and that you want to know where they stand on the issue. The cabinet has since been shuffled so you will have to look up who's who in the new zoo. However, Clement and Harper remain the key ones to focus on. The others are just icing.

Be respectful and give the MP the benefit of the doubt. Whatever information you have about an MP's position, it may not be accurate and they may be open to changing their mind. They will respond better to a calm, polite letter — remember passion can be expressed with reason. In this case it can also be supported with peer-reviewed evidence as well.

Don't put down those who oppose extending the exemption. You could be insulting someone close to that person — not an endearing tactic. You'll also just lose credibility.

Ask for their support and request a reply — you can provide them with your phone number and/or email address to make it simple for them to get back to you (See my response from Mr. Clement last fall). When you do hear back, please share the response in the comments section here—we want to know what’s happening.

Feel free to let them know that you were compelled to write based on an email from a concerned indivual and with information from this blog. A grassroots effort by individuals with no vested interests in Insite other than a recognition of Insite's value to the community that it serves, and with compassion for those individuals, could be a powerful message.

Copying a form letter is less powerful. Personalizing it can make it work though.

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