Here’s what it’s like on the other end of the phone.
Many of the questions I receive about calling Congress fit into the same category. Specifically, people are concerned that they are either not calling enough, calling too much, or combining too many subjects into the same message. So, if you’re reading this with a lot of those same questions and fears, you’re not alone. Let’s break down a few of the common questions and anxieties about calling.
How often should I call my representative?
You should call whenever you have something new to say. That’s it. If you want to call about a cabinet appointment vote and then the next day you’d like to talk about the Affordable Care Act, it’s okay to call again. It’s not necessary to call multiple days in a row with the same message. It’s also not necessary to make multiple calls to different offices and also send an email — one message, one office, one call.
I’d also suggest making sure you are calling the right person for the right issue. Check to see which body (House or Senate) a piece of legislation is in before you call. Hint: all of the confirmation hearings are happening in the Senate. The Senate will vote on appointments, but the House will not.
What if I have a lot of things to say all at once?
Group your calls into one issue whenever possible. This means that you can talk to your Senator about several cabinet appointment hearings in the same phone call, but wait until another time to bring up a separate issue such as the Affordable Care Act. This makes it easy for the person on the other end of the line to categorize and tally your call. It also keeps your conversation brief.
If you have an urgent or timely issue, make a phone call. If you have another concern that’s not as timely, but you still want to voice an opinion, send an email.
Which office should I call?
As long as you are a constituent, you can call any office you’d like or can get through to. The state/district offices and DC offices can all receive comments about legislation and tally or pass those messages on.
How long should this phone call be?
The truth is that the length doesn’t matter so much as the substance. If you are having a good, productive conversation with a staffer where the conversation is an equal mix of back and forth exchanges, it’s okay for that to go for a few minutes. What you want to avoid is making the speech of a lifetime: a conversation where you’re the only one talking for 10–15 minutes or longer. Normally, your phone call shouldn’t take more than 3–5 minutes. If the office you’re calling is receiving a high volume of calls, try to be as considerate as possible and keep the conversation brief.
Am I annoying the person on the other end of the phone?
If you’re asking this question, you’re likely a kind and introspective person, and this isn’t an issue. Keep in mind that the staffer on the other end of the phone is a human. They are taking a lot of calls, but they also care about what you have to say. Here’s the golden rule of calling representatives:
Call your own Senators and Representatives about a topic that is under their control. Be kind to staff and tell your story. Keep your conversation brief and to the point.
If you’re doing those things, I can almost guarantee that staff will not be annoyed or upset, and they will welcome your call, no matter if you’re for or against them.
Bonus: What if I can’t reach my representatives by phone?
Some representatives are receiving so many calls that their lines are constantly busy and their voicemail boxes are full. In this case, you have a few options:
- Send an email. The point is that you need your message to get through, so send a personalized email without using any kind of template or script.
- Send a letter. Mail a letter to the state office nearest you or the DC office. DC office mail can take a little longer to arrive (postcards too), but it will make it to the office.
I didn’t include faxes in this list, even though I know they’ve been popular lately. Nearly all offices receive their faxes as e-faxes. This means they aren’t printed out on a traditional fax machine, but instead arrive as a PDF or an image in an inbox that may or may not be checked often. It’s difficult to trace the origin of a fax, so if it doesn’t have a valid return address, it will get tossed without consideration. So, I recommend sticking to email and physical letters.
Want to read more of my tips on contacting Congress? Download my book: Call the Halls: Contacting Your Representative the Smart Way. It’s available as a free download or for whatever you’d like to pay for it!