How to Communicate with Congress

There are five primary ways to communicate with policymakers: email (electronic mail via the Internet), face-to-face meetings, facsimile (FAX), letters, and telephone calls. Before communicating with members of Congress, visit their websites ( for the latest information about their top priorities and activities.


All members of Congress maintain email addresses and websites to communicate with their constituents. Most congressional offices will respond to email from constituents as well as (or better than) they will respond to snail mail.

When writing to your legislator, it is essential to include your name, street address, email address, and phone number, preferably at the top of the message. Your representative will first verify that you live within his or her Congressional district to determine whether it is appropriate to respond. If you fail to include your contact information, your representative will not respond.

Many not-for-profit groups allow you to send a form email to your senators and congressional representatives. While most offices read every message they receive whether a standard form or customized, know that personalized, individualized messages receive the most attention.

Face-to-Face Meetings

The importance of face-to-face meetings cannot be underestimated. Such meetings force your elected officials to be aware of the issues important to their constituents which may be easy to gloss over otherwise.

One of the most productive forms of communication for influencing public policy is to visit a policymaker. The same principles for planning and carrying out a constructive meeting with a lawmaker apply whether it is at the local level or in Washington, DC.

A successful visit with a policymaker includes the following:

    1. Purpose of the Visit – Your knowledge and interest in current legislative initiatives that impact individuals and families will help to define the purpose for your visit. Make it a practice to monitor legislative developments that affect families and seek additional information, if needed.

    2. Schedule Appointments – When you plan to visit your state or national capital to tour attractions or attend a conference, schedule a meeting with your elected officials. You do not need to know anyone in the office to schedule an appointment. At least two weeks prior to the visit, send a one page letter to the policymaker requesting a visit. Briefly explain the issue you wish to discuss and thank him/her for their past efforts on the same or related issues such as children, youth, and families. Indicate a willingness to meet with the appropriate staff member. This lets the policymaker know that you understand the many demands on his/her time. It also increases the probability that a meeting will occur with someone who is knowledgeable about the issue and eager to hear your point of view.

      One week prior to the visit, telephone the office, obtain the name of the appointment secretary, confirm the appointment and with whom you will meet. Never underestimate the value of meeting and establishing a relationship with the policymaker’s staff. Ask how much time will be allowed for the visit. Prepare information which can be left with the individual at the conclusion of the meeting. Just prior to the visit, make any calls to reconfirm arrangements, if this seems prudent.

    3. Prepare an Agenda – Develop a strategy to establish common ground for discussing the issue to be addressed. Prepare a statement which briefly and precisely presents the subject in about 10 to 15 minutes. Write down any important points to be made. Convey how the alternatives presented will affect the policymaker’s constituents or customers. Prepare questions in advance. Before concluding, summarize the main points and end with clear statement of the action desired.

    4. Designate a Spokesperson – If the appointment is for a small group, designate one person to speak and assign specific roles to each member of the group. An orchestrated plan does not preclude spontaneous participation.

    5. Know the Policymaker’s Position – Arguments will be more effective if the stance of the policymaker is known. When he/she supports a position, facts or case studies to support the position will be appreciated. If the individual is undecided or opposed to a position, information which refutes that stance is valuable.

    6. Arrive Promptly – If several people are part of the meeting, gather at a designated location before the appointed time and enter the office together. Promptness is essential.

    7. Provide Fact Sheets – Provide a brief written summary of the points to be made in the meeting, including the name, address, and telephone number of the person the policymaker may contact for additional information. Brochures, fact sheets, and business cards are also appropriate materials to attach to the packet of information.

    8. Follow-Up – After the visit, send brief letters to all persons involved with the meeting thanking them for the meeting, regardless of the stance they take on the issue.

Facsimile (FAX)

While a fax message has not always been the favored means of communications, its significance has grown as security regulations have slowed the mail system. If your information is timely and must be received within two weeks, consider using a fax machine to send your letter.


The letter is the most popular choice of communication with congressional offices. With increased security concerns after September 11, 2001, the mail process has slowed significantly. Be sure to allow a minimum of two weeks and up to six weeks for your letter to clear security and reach the congressional office. If your information is timely, consider sending the message via email or fax.

See a sample letter, and follow these helpful suggestions to improve the effectiveness of letters to policymakers:

  1. Identify the purpose upfront – The purpose for writing the letter should be in the first paragraph. If the letter pertains to a specific bill, identify it accordingly, i.e. House Bill H.R. ________, Senate Bill S. ___(name of bill)____.

  2. Be polite and specific – Be courteous, to the point, and include key information, using examples to support the stated position.

  3. Be concise – Address only one issue in each letter, and if possible, keep the letter to one page. A short letter addressing a single issue allows the staff to process the letter and respond effectively. This also eases their job of tracking the numbers of constituents writing in on specific issues.

  4. Contact the appropriate policymaker – Write to your state representatives about the state issues, and to your federal representatives about federal issues. If a bill is up for vote in the Senate, but not the House, do not call your representatives on the House side to voice your opinions on the issues.

Address Correspondence

In all correspondence, avoid the words “congressman” or congresswoman.” “Representative,” “Senator,” and “Member of Congress” are the preferred titles because they are gender neutral.

Telephone Calls

Using the telephone is a practical communication strategy, especially when time is a factor. Use this handy appointment worksheet to track your calls.

Telephone the office and request to speak with the congressional member or his/her aide. Ask if he/she knows when action on the measure is expected. Explain that you are the legislator’s constituent and state an opinion about the issue. Ask how the legislator expects to vote. Then, suggest a position for the legislator to take.

There are essentially two telephone numbers you need to call a member of Congress. They are the switchboard numbers for both the House and Senate. Simply request the name of the Member and the operator will patch you through.

House Switchboard: 202.225.3121 

Senate Switchboard: 202.224.3121

A legislative telephone tree is an effective way to mobilize many people on a particular issue. To establish such a network, formulate a plan for the calling sequence and list the names and telephone numbers of all interested persons, then print a copy of the tree for the group’s reference.