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Paint PICTURE with Advocacy Letters

This article appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of In Gear and is reprinted here with permission from Derek Mortland of the Mid-Ohio Board for an Independent Living Environment (MOBILE).

April 2003

Ever wonder where to begin with an advocacy letter? If so, you are not alone. Many times, people who have never written to or visited an elected official find it difficult to begin describing an issue that is important to them.

Derek Mortland, a MOBILE Independent Living advocate specializing in Advocacy and Housing issues, said individuals need to first thoroughly know the topic they are promoting. "The more you know, the better." he said. "You are going to have to know all sides of the issue. At times three or four sides."

Advocacy letters should explain how an issue impacts you, and what change is needed. Discuss how your proposal would benefit the person you are writing, or, in the case of writing to an elected official, how the change would benefit the city, county, state or nation. "You have to look at it as building a relationship and creating a win-win situation," Mortland said.

Recently, Mortland wrote an advocacy letter to U.S. Senator George V. Voinovich, advocating against the Jeffrey Sutton court appointment. Within a month, he received a reply stating the senator's support for the nominee.

In an effort to further build a relationship with Voinovich, Mortland decided to send another letter in response. "The reason for responding is not to debate the difference in opinions about the nomination, but to address issues related to Sutton's advocacy for state's rights that have weakened the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"The second letter seeks Congressional legislative remedy for the attacks the ADA has recently experienced," he added.

As a local example, Mortland said, if you are seeking to have a ramp placed at a business, write a letter that not only requests the ramp, but lists the benefits to the business owner. Increased business is an obvious benefit, but tax incentives also exist to help the owner with the cost of the ramp.

Personal stories are vital to advocacy letters because they complete the picture you are trying to paint for your contact. "Whoever reads it can draw a direct relation to the point you're making and how the issue has affected you, or the person you're commenting about," he said.

Keep your letters to one page Mortland advised. "Any longer, and they probably won't read it," he said. "Conciseness and brevity add to the impact of the letter."

Are you visiting an elected official to advocate for or against an issue? Mortland said respect and professionalism during the visit are just as important as correct spelling in a letter. "You don't want to detract from your message," he said.

Derek Mortland's 7 Helpful Hints for Highly Effective Advocacy Letters

Remember, paint a PICTURE with your advocacy letters.

Poignant: Your point should be made with mental intensity and clarity.

Impact: Your letter should create an impact on the reader and move them to action.

Concise: While following the first two points remember to contain your initial letter to a single page.

Truthful: Be honest about the situation and the circumstances surrounding it, both in the letter and to yourself.

Understandable: Have you checked, double-checked and rechecked the grammar and spelling? Don't depend solely on Spellcheck.

Respectful: Your letter will be read by others. Be respectful of persons and differing points of view.

Energetic: There is obviously something that moved you to write a letter in the first place. Use this energy to fuel your effort.

Paint a PICTURE for your local representatives today. Contact your legislators about an issue close to your heart. To locate contact information for your legislators, visit Thomas Legislative Branch Internet Resources.

If you have questions or ideas, information and solutions that you would like to share with us, contact us by e-mail at: horizons@new-horizons.org or to use our NHU E-Mail Form or NHU Community Discussion Board, click the links below.
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