When writing a letter to a community leader or preparing testimony to be read at a public hearing there are a few things to keep in mind so your words have the desired impact. Advocacy, whether done as an individual or as part of a group, has the goal of raising awareness, calling for action, and changing lives.
1) Be direct, identify the problem and suggest a solution: State the problem and how it effects you or the people for which you are advocating. Constructive ideas on how to solve a problem go much farther than than trying to assign blame as to who’s at fault. Offer to work with them to come up with a solution that works for everyone. A leader is more likely to work with someone who makes suggestions rather than demands, it also lays a better foundation for any future interactions when you need their help again.
1) Always be respectful: Advocates are passionate people, there are a lot of emotions involved when sharing a story or trying to make changes to better the lives of others. It is very important to remember that person or persons you are engaging with have all of the same emotions that you do.
2) Proof read everything twice: Have you ever heard the expression, you never get a second change to make a first impression? Mistakes can often make your recipient wonder if you actually care about what you are advocating for. It is best to use a computer when composing your thoughts, use spell check, Grammarly is also extremely useful. TIP: You can cut and paste your letter or testimony into Google Translate and have it read your writing back to you. Sometimes it is easier to hear mistakes than it is to see them.
3) Do your research – Testimony: If you are planning on writing a testimony and would like to read it in front of a committee please keep in mind that you are limited to three minutes of speaking time. You are required to submit a written version of your testimony before the public hearing starts. Use this to your advantage, lets say in your testimony you state that one out of every five people live with a mental illness. While that statement is true you should site your source of that information with your written testimony.
When you have finished your time the committee will thank you for your time, they will then ask any of the committee members if they have any questions for you. One may ask where the statistic one in five came from. At that point you can state the source and then point out that the source is noted in the written testimony. TIP: Have a copy of your written testimony with you even if you plan to paraphrase and not read directly from it. Highlight your source information for quick reference should you need it.
4) Do your research – Letter writing: When writing a letter you are not really limited on how much information you can convey, but you should keep in mind that community leaders are extremely busy and have great demands on their time. First make it clear what your ask is, identify the problem, how long the problem has been occurring, and how it is effecting you. Ask for their help or for them to direct you to someone who can aid you in resolving the problem. Lastly, always thank them for their time. You are more likely to get a prompt response if they believe you appreciate the work that they do.
5) DO NOT write anything if you are angry: How you word things is very important and when you are mad or upset the real issue you are trying to advocate for may suffer. The tone of your words must be direct but not sound combative. It is okay to say something like, “I have been living with this problem for so long I am angry, frustrated, and just want a solution that will work well for everyone .” That is actually a good thing to communicate because it reflects on how you are being effected. Writing while angry on the other hand, “I am so angry that you have allowed this nonsense to go on for so long, what do we have to do before you fix it?”