Editor’s Note: This article is Part Two in our four-part Activating Philanthropy series. In this series, we explore ways to bring your philanthropic ideals into your everyday life, activating the lessons we’ve learned along the way. For the rest of the series, check out Part One: Philanthropy in Daily Routines, Part Three: Talking to Family Members (Who Don’t Want to Talk to You), and Part Four: How to Start a Giving Circle.
Welcome back to Activating Philanthropy with Philanthropy Women! This week, we’re exploring a common theme in the giving world that isn’t often clearly explained. During election seasons and high-stakes activism cycles, there are typically calls to “call your Congresswoman,” “write your representatives,” or otherwise engage with the American democratic system as a concerned citizen.
But how exactly do we do that?
This week, we’re breaking down the steps it takes to make your voice heard in the political sphere, including (and especially) outside of election cycles.
1. Plan your call in advance — be clear, concise, and compelling.
Before you pick up the phone or draft that email, be clear on what you want to say. If a social issue has you inspired enough to make a call or write a letter, take the time to educate yourself on every angle of the issue before you make your voice heard. Identify a path you’d like to advocate for, and prepare basic talking points on your argument.
Many political activism organizations, like 5Calls, offer easy-to-follow templates for emails and phone calls about hot-button issues — this 5Calls script in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, for example.
2. Find your representative: House of Representatives.
To get contact information for your district’s Representative, you can look up your state’s Congress members through the Directory of Representatives available on the House’s website. You can sort by state and district or by last name (there is also a zip code lookup function if you’re stumped on where to start). Most Congress members have some form of contact info reliably available in the directory, but if they don’t, you can find them by their personal websites and get in touch that way.
3. Contact your US Senator.
U.S. Congressional Senators are easier to find (since each state only has two), but can be trickier to get in touch with. Senators hold offices in Washington, D.C., but they may also have private offices back in their home states. Here is a simple directory from the US Senate with the postal addresses for Senators’ and committees’ D.C. offices. Alternatively, if you can’t find the contact info you’re looking for, you can always call the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for guidance. (Just expect much longer wait times than calling the office directly.)
4. Get in touch.
Now that you’ve got your Congresswoman’s info, it’s time to get in touch. We already mentioned the templates available for both email and phone calls — brush up on your info and prepare for the call in advance. When it’s time, start by identifying yourself as a constituent and asking for a legislative assistant. (You’re likely not going to speak to your rep or Senator directly — this is what legislative assistants are for, and they’re extremely overworked, so be courteous.) Once you’ve got the right person on the line, bust out the prepared details, facts, and requested actions you prepared.
A good model to follow here is “Goal, Fact, Act”: Identify the issue you’re calling about and the goal you’d like fulfilled, back it up with some carefully chosen facts, and close the call by respectfully asking your representative to take action, such as supporting a bill or voting a certain way.
It goes without saying, but be kind — we catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and that is no less true in the United States Congress.
Finally, it bears repeating that the best way to make your voice heard is to vote on the issues that are important to you. At the end of the day, a politician can hear from every one of her constituents, but she’s still going to have to make a decision on her own — philanthropic and political activism are the key to making politicians understand how serious we are about gender and social justice.
For more ways to activate philanthropy in your life, check out Part One: Philanthropy in Daily Routines, and stay tuned for the rest of our Activating Philanthropy series. Next week, we’re breaking down a tough subject — how to talk to your family members about philanthropy and social justice, especially when they might not want to “stir the pot.”
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