Advocacy Made Easy: Online Tools
While you will always hear me singing the praises of reaching out personally to aides and members of Congress, I recognize that isn’t every mother’s cup of tea. What is a busy mom to do? Use online tools! Internet tools are designed to connect people to congressional offices with ease. Although these tools may not provide the most bang for your buck, they often make a good entry point for beginning advocates.
These tools can be most effective when:
· An issue moves quickly and many advocates need to be notified immediately;
· A person is so intimidated by other advocacy methods or so strapped for time that this is the only action they can take;
· An organization wants to build broad awareness about an issue;
· An organization wants to build up a database of people who care about the issue.
Let’s take a look at three of the most common ways to advocate online and explore their pros and cons.
One-Click Online Petitions
You’ve probably seen petitions on your friends’ social media posts. Fill in your address, click one button, and you’re done! So easy! Your name and address will be added to a list of thousands of other supporters and delivered to the office of a specific person, like the President or the Secretary of Education.
However, offices are aware that these online petitions can be influenced by people using multiple email addresses, so it’s not as effective as actions with a more personal touch. Still, it’s a good way for organizations to identify allies and then urge them to take a next step by donating or taking a deeper action.
The upside of using email to contact an office is that you can comfortably type away at your keyboard. You don’t even have to use postage! A customized, personal email is a good way to get to your member of Congress quickly. However, it can be a problem if you don’t know what to write!
That’s where web-generated email campaigns come in. These websites allow you to select from various talking points and type in your own personal touches to make the email message uniquely yours. When you press "send," it will instantly deliver messages to both of your senators and your representatives all at the same time.
The trick here is that it is pretty easy for offices to automatically sort out all the messages like yours and send you an automatically generated response. Your opinion does get tallied with others, but it’s kind of like robots talking to each other. You might have more impact if you re-wrote the sample email in your own words, hit print, and then use the regular U.S. postal system to mail your message to the local district office of your member of Congress. That ensures an actual human will have to open your letter, read it, and forward it to another human who has to respond to it. The more staff power an office has to put into responding to your request, the more they notice.
Online “Letter to the Editor” Tools
This is by far my favorite kind of online advocacy aid! Letters to the editor published in local papers are great because they show your member of Congress that your community is publicly talking about your issue.
Your letter will be seen by thousands of people at once via local media—and may reach even more if it is posted or shared online! In addition, you can have friends and neighbors print out your letter and mail it to your member of Congress, saying they read your letter and agree with you.
Few people take this action because it can be daunting to come up with a succinct description of your issue in less than 200 words, which is the typical word limit for most letters to the editor. But an online tool provides a nice template that you can customize and then send to your paper directly from the website. How cool is that?
Just be sure to rephrase your message in your own voice—don’t copy the template text word for word. If more than a few people submit a letter that an editor can recognize as duplicates from a master file, you run the risk of not being published and getting a bad reputation at your hometown newspaper.