How to Make a Difference – Tips for Effective Activism

When an elected official receives a hundred letters they take notice. When a company director gets a thousand e-mails direct to their inbox, it makes things happen. Use your voice to demand change for the things you care about.

Author Rima Hanano, 02.26.10

When an elected official receives a hundred letters they take notice. When a company director gets a thousand e-mails direct to their inbox, it makes things happen. Use your voice to demand change for the things you care about.

Tips for effective activism

Letter, email, fax, petition or phone?

A typed or hand-written letter carries the most weight with any recipient.

According to the Amnesty International Campaigning Manual, individual written letters can demonstrate a depth of knowledge and personal concern, while letters from eminent people can have a particularly great impact.  You can copy (and paste into your word-processing program) any of our pre-written, customisable messages.

Letters are of limited use in rapid response situations, and in some countries high postage costs make letter writing inappropriate. Most of your messages from our site are sent via e-mail.

E-mail is fast and cost-effective, suitable for swift action.

While e-mail is more accessible, immediate action, it does require less commitment from the sender. Recipients, of course, have this in mind when they read e-mails. However, the convenience – not to mention the potential to mobilise hundreds or even thousands of messages – makes e-mail an indispensable tool in the activist’s arsenal.

Personalise and add more punch!

We also have the opportunity to personalise the message we have set up for an intended target. This increases the impact of the e-mail considerably, as a personalised subject line and thoughts added to the message show the intended recipient you’ve understood the issue and are expressing your concerns.

For certain issues or in cases where we cannot find an e-mail address for the intended recipient of a message, we send your message by fax instead.

Faxing also offers the added value of tangible results for the recipient.

A target receives hard copy messages from activists, giving the campaign appeal a physical presence.

Petitions are a traditional means of public protest, and a simple, low-cost campaigning tool.

An online petition can be supported by offline petitioning, in order to encourage higher results and the participation of target countries with poor web access.  Results can be collated and delivered to the target.

In some countries petitions have been used to such an extent that they may have lost some of their former impact.  Petitions also have limited effectiveness when urgent action is required, as petitions by nature demand high volume – a couple of hundred signatures on a petition is unlikely to be as effective as a couple of hundred personalised faxes, depending on the decision maker.  If you can get a high response, e-petitions can be designed so they are delivered daily, helping make them more useful for urgent issues.

Make a call.

A telephone call shows that you care enough to spend a little money, and if you can actually speak with the recipient, phone conversations offer unparalleled opportunity for feedback. Where appropriate we’ll also do our best to offer you the intended recipient’s phone number should you wish to follow up your message with a phone call.

Does E-mail Really Work?

Yes it does, especially if it’s done right!

When targeting an elected official, remember they want to get re-elected, and they know that messages, even e-mails, express the opinions of people who participate in the political process and who vote.
 
Busy officials don’t always have time to read e-mail, but their aides (or even machines) scan the e-mails to determine who wrote each (constituents count more than non-constituents), what the subject is, and whether the writer is for or against.
 
Then a report is prepared, tallying the numbers for and against the action that the e-mail called for. This report finally goes to the boss, or to a senior aide. If a large number of well written e-mails comes in, the official usually takes notice.
 
Opinions thus count, especially in quantity, even if sent by e-mail. So make sure you add your thoughts to your e-mail, and encourage others to take action!
 
What happens if I send an email to a target and it bounces back?
 
This usually happens when a ‘target’ such as an elected official or CEO suddenly starts receiving many e-mails from Passport holders, and to avoid it they change their e-mail address and delete the old one, or simply block your e-mail.
 
In some infrequent cases we may have used the wrong email address, we try to rectify these errors as soon as possible.We keep a close eye on e-mail addresses, but please  let Passport Control know if you’re e-mail is not going through, then we can look into it straight away, try and find an alternative address, or remove what is there.

Write a powerful letter

Writing to elected officials

It is important that we tell elected officials where we stand on issues. Our input helps shape the way elected officials create and implement environmental and social policy.

E-mails, faxes and petitions are good communication tools, but letters are often the most effective and persuasive way of communicating our views to elected officials.

These tips will help you write a persuasive letter:
 

Keep it short. Limit your letter to one page and one issue.
Identify yourself and the issue. In the first paragraph of your letter state who you are and what issue you are writing about
Focus on your main points. Choose the three strongest points to support your argument and develop them clearly. Too much information can distract from your position.
Make it personal. Tell your decision maker why the issue matters to you and how it affects you, your family, and your community. Make a connection to the elected official. Did you vote for her? Did you contribute to the campaign?
Ask for a reply. Include your name and address on both your letter and envelope. Trust your voice. Be polite and take a firm position in your letter. Be confident in your understanding of the issue and remember that the official may know less than you. Thank elected officials when they make a decision the way you want.

A better letter to the editor

Letters to the Editor are one of the most widely read sections of the newspaper and reach a large audience. They allow community members to comment on the way issues are being addressed in the media and to influence what topics the local paper covers.

Elected officials often monitor this section of the newspaper and take notice of constituents’ opinions. Due to strict space limitations in newspapers, not all letters will be published, but the more letters the newspaper receives on a certain topic, the more likely they are to run at least one letter on the topic. Check the letter guidelines in your local paper and use these tips to write an effective letter to the editor:

Keep it short and focused. Many newspapers have strict length limits and edit letters for space. A concise, single-issue letter has a better chance of retaining its salient points and keeping the reader’s interest.
Make specific references. While some newspapers will print general commentary letters, most prefer letters that respond to a specific article.
Be factual and highlight aspects of the issue that haven’t been previously addressed.
Include your contact information. Many newspapers will only publish a letter to the editor after verifying the author’s contact information. When printed, the letter will usually only include your name and city.
Type your letter and sign it.
Send letters to smaller newspapers. Small newspapers are more likely to print your letter and the letter can then spark local community action.

Source: WWF

More resources, more action

Sources: WWF/Panda (The Material in this toolkit has been drawn from existing materials prepared by civil society organisations. In particular the team would like to thank CIVICUS, David Cohen of the Advocacy Institute and Beaty Hofmeyr of ETU for granting permission to use their material).

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