Reasons and Remarks - A Personal Touch

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News March 2019

PVA has always excelled at the quality over quantity thing.

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Has the best way to communicate with your elected representatives changed? In preparing to write my editorial for this issue, I looked back at my March 2018 column and secretly wanted to just reprint it in this issue. I honestly wasn’t being lazy, but I just wanted to reiterate the importance of Paralyzed Veterans of America’s (PVA) Advocacy and Legislation Training Seminar, which is taking place this month in Washington, D.C. This month’s issue contains two great articles about the seminar. The feature titled Taking Capitol Hill By Storm by the PVA Government Relations staff is on page 30, and the On the Hill column by Heather Ansley, associate executive director of PVA’s Government Relations Department, is on page 14. I’d like to expound upon something contained in On the Hill that gave me reason to pause and feel old.

We will have many PVA members in Washington for the March 4–7 seminar, and they’ll be visiting congressional members’ offices on the Hill for face-to-face meetings. In her column, Ansley aptly suggests and encourages all of PVA’s membership to send emails or make phone calls to their respective members of Congress to echo the efforts being made on the Hill … but wait, no letter? I had to ask myself, “Is the letter dead? Do members of Congress give more attention to a handwritten letter than an email?” One nonprofit organization described an old-fashioned note this way: “Why handwritten letters? Because they work.” It then cited research from the Congressional Management Foundation confirming that handwritten, mailed letters were still the best way to communicate with your members of Congress.

The research found 96% of Capitol Hill staff reported that if their member of Congress had not reached a decision on an issue, personalized letters would influence his or her position. Now, that’s not to say a well-crafted email with a personal touch can’t accomplish the same thing, and recent research supports that. A Jan. 9, 2019, release from the foundation stated that since it began conducting detailed research of citizen engagement with Congress, it has seen a clear trend: Identical form email campaigns from grassroots groups are becoming less effective (this is not what Ansley is suggesting). The foundation’s research has also shown that building relationships — emphasizing quality over quantity — is more effective at influencing lawmakers. Bingo! PVA has always excelled at the quality over quantity thing. One member of Congress, whom I will leave unnamed, says that when he receives communication from constituents, he’s impressed when letters are individually written rather than just signed form letters or postcards, and he emphasized that personal, handwritten letters make the most impact. I would say Ansley is spot-on in her request of you.

When members from your chapter are on Capitol Hill this month to build and reinforce relationships, your heartfelt email or phone call to your representatives can be the quality over quantity that’s most effective in influencing your representatives. I must agree that a well-crafted email or a simple phone call is a fast and easy way to make your voice heard. It can always be followed up with a handwritten letter. While there may appear to be two schools of thought on this subject, one side may consist primarily of crusty curmudgeons like myself who can still properly address an envelope, read and write in cursive and lick a stamp. I do, however, have confidence in you, the PVA member, to eloquently craft an email. If your representative is one of the new millennial crowd, heaven help us if you send a letter and write in cursive, for his or her term may expire before he or she can translate it. My advice would be to listen to Ansley and send the email or make the phone call to all your representatives, millennial or otherwise. And if you choose to send the old-fashioned letter, you may want to write in print.



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