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Personalized emails are key to boosting grassroots influence

a photo of Rick ClaypoolNever underestimate the power of an email to your members of Congress.

Of course, emails to your representatives and senators probably don’t seem nearly as exciting as mass mobilizations and seem less obviously effective than, say, in-person lobby meetings or even phone calls.

But consider the following:

According to a respected study of communications between constituents and lawmakers, 88 percent of congressional staffers say the lawmakers they work for are influenced by personalized email messages (19 percent of those said that these email messages carry a lot of positive influence).

In other words, the emails that you send to your members of Congress, urging them to support one bill and urging them to oppose another, have a 9-in-10 chance of making a difference, perhaps even greater if many others are also emailing. Those are terrific odds.

How do these constituent emails compare with other ways to influence these representatives and senators? According to the same study, a nearly identical number of staffers say hand-written letters are influential (90 percent).

On the other hand, fewer staffers say lobbyist visits and newspaper editorials are influential – 82 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

But remember, the key word here is personalized messages.

That’s why, at the bottom of every one of Public Citizen’s web pages you can use to send a message to members of Congress, activists like you will see a note that says something like this:

“Please take a moment to add your own words to the email message that appears. This greatly increases the likelihood that your message will make a difference.”

And what about email messages that are not personalized?

According to the same survey, only 51 percent of staffers say these form emails are influential. That’s still more than half. But it means that just by adding a few of your own words – especially to the subject line and the top of the email, where the staffers who read it are most likely to notice – you increase the likelihood by 37 percent that your emails to your members of Congress are going to make a difference.

Of course, it takes a little longer to personalize your message, and I understand that not everyone always has the time to send a personalized message every time. So be strategic. Write personalized messages as often as you can. When you can’t, make a note of it and think about how else you might increase your impact, perhaps by following up with a phone call or by encouraging others to get involved (such as by sharing the action on Facebook and Twitter).

Every little bit helps, and every small action can be a stepping stone toward tremendous progress.

Send a message to your members of Congress by taking action at citizen.org/action.

Rick Claypool is the Online Director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenRick.