1. Advocacy Resource

5 Ways to Make Congress Hear You

By Chris Letts, Maiya Zwerling, November 16, 2016

Members of Congress have to listen to constituents — it’s the only way they keep their jobs — but not all communications with Congress are equal. These tips will help you communicate effectively to solve problems and change policy.

A former congressional staffer provided insider knowledge on how you can influence Congress. As a grassroots lobbying organization, we wanted to give you the full picture!

Check out our top five tips for making sure Congress listens to you.

Hi Emily! Thanks for sharing. Let’s tag team this!

As you get started, remember the cardinal rule: lobbying is much bigger than a phone call or message. But, it’s important to know the basics.

1. Get started with social media

Congressional offices have different opinions about social media. The Congressional Management Foundation — an organization that spends its time figuring out how Congress works — says social media is often the most effective way to reach members of Congress online.

The weight of social media varies from office to office. Overall we find Twitter is the most used platform among congressional offices. Make it easier for your members of Congress to pay attention by tweeting at them or commenting on their Facebook post. Always identify yourself as a constituent, and name a specific legislative action you want them to take.

Check out our social advocacy toolkit for more tips and tricks.

While social media is very convenient - you can tweet from anywhere - remember your advocacy cannot stop there.

2. Make sure your messages to Congress are on point

Emily is right! Staffers work hard to be responsive, but they can be piled on with a lot of communications. Just this week, we spoke to a staffer that said their office received 100 phone calls on a single issue.

But we do know that many members of Congress care about what you’re writing in about and there are ways to catch their eye. When you sit down to write you member of Congress, make sure to include:

  • Who you are: Identify yourself as a constituent and where you are from.
  • What bill you are advocating for: If the issue you are writing in about is connected to a bill, make sure to include the bill name and number. This helps staff easily identify what action you want the member to take.
  • Bring it home: Connect the issue you are advocating for to your community. Show your member of Congress how this change will positively impact the communities he/she represents.

Feel free to use our online action center to streamline the process.

3. Raise your voice

Phone calls are a loud way to get the office’s attention, especially the day of a vote or an action. At the same time, offices weigh messages and calls differently. Some members get a tally of constituent emails on each issue on a weekly basis, and others need a deluge of calls to take note.

Don’t be afraid to call up your congressional office and ask how they prefer to be communicated with.

The easiest way to reach your members of Congress is through the Capitol switchboard. Just dial (202) 224-3121 and they will connect you directly to your legislator’s office.

When making a phone call:

  • Identify who you are, where you’re from, and what role you play in your community (I attend the Methodist church, I am involved in my kid’s PTA)
  • Make your ask, and be specific. Include bill name and number.
  • Briefly share why community members care about this issue and ask where the legislator stands. If they don’t have a position yet, ask for the best way to follow up.

Yes, flooding phone lines can certainly make sure you’re heard in offices, but making bigger change requires bigger action.

4. You’re most effective when you show up in person

In person interaction with members of Congress or their staff are the most effective way to get the office’s attention - and actually get them to act. Don’t be afraid to show up at town halls or other public events in order to make a splash.

But you don’t just have to show up at public events to engage with your legislator in person. Let’s talk about lobbying.

Yes, there are lots of professional lobbyists working for corporate interests. But they’re not the only ones who can meet with Congress. The most effective lobbyists now are constituents. That means you. It’s hands down the best way to get your legislator to take action.

Lobbying is easy, and it’s something we can all do. Check out our lobbying road map for a step-by-step guide of how to start the conversation with your member of Congress or their staff.

Advocacy Resource How to Meet with Congress 

Going on a lobby visit may seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be. We break down what to do before, during, and after your visit into 6 steps - and give you resources to make the most of your time in a congressional office.

5. Staffers are people too

It’s important to treat staff members with respect. But also recognize that they are often your greatest ally in making change.

Staffers hold leverage. They are more likely to take action on your request if you connect with them (yes, even with people you disagree with!). You can engage with staff back at home and in Washington - retaining multiple relationships can make a big difference.

The big idea

YOU have the power to influence your members of Congress.

From letters, to phone calls, to social media, to town halls, to lobby visits, there are a TON of ways to advocate with your Member of Congress. Pick which avenue works best with you and run with it.

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Chris Letts

  • Former Digital Communications Manager

Chris Letts managed FCNL's website and email advocacy program. In this capacity, she wrote extensively for FCNL's digital presence and communicates with activists around the country. She led FCNL's 2016 website redesign. Chris is especially focused on leveraging technology make advanced constituent advocacy more accessible. She also wrote This Week in the World, FCNL's weekly news digest.

Maiya Zwerling

  • Past National Organizing Manager (2013-2018)

Maiya Zwerling served as the National Organizing Manager for FCNL Advocacy Teams (2013-2018). She founded the FCNL Advocacy Teams, a network of hundreds of Quakers and friends lobbying to build congressional champions for peace and justice.