I wrote this awhile back when I was working for Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office in San Francisco. I think I just forgot to post it. Enjoy!
I’ve been working in the Senator’s Office for about a month now and I have a bit of advice for constituents writing letters.
NOTE: this advice is designed to help you write a letter which I (the intern will little or no power over what help you get) would respond better to. Following these guidelines will not necessarily help your case. However, most of the suggestions are professional courtesies and are appreciated the world around.
That being said, here are the attributes which make a letter to your Senator do what you want it to:
- Make sure to print your name (and all other information you think we might need) clearly.
- Place identifying information (Alien Registration Number (aka, A number), Social Security Number, Name, Address, Phone) somewhere near the top of the first page you send us.The best examples of this were always the immigration cases. Bullet points are fine for this kind of information!We use an extensive database which has search boxes, and the easier I can look up your case the more efficiently I get your case into the hands of someone who will try to help you.
- Be polite when requesting help from the Senator.By this I mean, if you’re mad, then be mad. It’s your Constitutionally protected right to voice your opinions on the government to the government. But if you want help with a federal agency, it might be better to focus on what you need, rather than how angry you are. Passion is illuminative when controlled. Anger, frustration, resignation, all of these are valid emotions when dealing with federal agencies. However, while I am reading your letter I want to know what we can do for you, not how angry you are at what has not been done for you to date.
- Make your request for help succinct, with all facts referenced and all issues voiced in an organized and clear manner.This may mean rewriting your letter several times. The most effective letters, for me, were ones where the complaint was under 5 pages, an where all supporting material (forms, briefs, letters of explanation, previous decisions etc) are neatly attached.Perhaps this method might help: if you are too passionate to be clear about your complaint, try dictating your letter to a friend or relative. Explaining the situation from beginning to end, out loud, to someone else always helps me to congeal my thoughts for a formal presentation.
- Document your case.The best case files I have seen were the ones where the first 4 rules were followed and the constituent had put a lot of effort into presenting the best possible case to us. If you have been fighting to keep your home for 4 months, document why you are being foreclosed on, what lender you are working with, what agencies you have already tried, and include a summary of the back story of how you came to not be able to make the payments on your house.
A note on the staffers
I was constantly impressed by how much work the Senator’s staffers put into each case. They got passionate about people’s cases, they investigated the issues, they worked hard for constituents. You may not get this impression from the letters you get, asking you to wait 6 weeks or 2 weeks or 6 months. It is probably an awful feeling getting one of those letters. But perhaps it will help to know that though it may feel like you’re being blown off, you really really are not. The staffers care about constituents services, or else they would not be working in that office.
John N. Mitchell – “The finest steel has to go through the hottest fire.”