By Max Broad
Dennis had a problem. He’d been a Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapter leader in California for almost three years, and his congressperson refused every request to meet. For a lobbying organization like CCL, this is problematic. So Dennis got creative. He and his chapter began writing letters. They collected these letters until they had a critical mass. Then they sent the large stack of constituent letters to Washington, D.C.
But not directly to their member of Congress.
Dennis and his chapter sent their letters to the CCL Envoys. The Envoys are a group of CCL volunteers in Washington, D.C., who act as couriers for CCL’s chapters. Volunteers from across the country will send letters to D.C. for the Envoys to hand-deliver to Congress.
The Envoys were founded because of their peculiar position. Since these DC residents have no voting representation in Congress, they leverage their proximity to the Capitol by acting as a conduit between CCL chapters and Congress. The Envoys are CCL’s “DC Pony Express.”
Over the years the Envoys have made dozens of trips to Congress and delivered thousands of letters. And every time they step into an office, the Envoys bring something extra with the mail. Whether it’s a recognizable face or an elevator pitch about CCL to a staffer, the Envoys deliver more than just the materials they carry.
Over the past few years the Envoys have learned a lot through trial and error. These are some of the main lessons about how to effectively get the CCL message to our lawmakers.
- Constituent voices resonate: Members of Congress can be difficult to win over — they have many constituencies competing for their attention. So how do the Envoys overcome this obstacle? We find that a large volume of letters has a notable impact. The greater the number of constituent letters, the more likely a member will take notice. That’s why we advise chapters to deliver dozens of letters at a time.
- Give a strong “ask”: A concise and achievable request augments a delivery. For instance, if the chapter sends letters from constituents asking to meet with a member, it provides the member an easy action to follow through on. By pairing the voices of constituents with a direct “ask,” we’ve found even the most disagreeable members of Congress oblige.
- People write more letters when they are hand delivered: Collecting a large stack of constituent letters is not an easy task. Yet people have been more inclined to write a letter when they know it is going to be hand delivered to their elected official. Knowing that CCLers are walking the extra mile instills a greater sense of confidence in the letter-writer that their voice will make an impact.
CCL recently set a visionary goal of passing climate legislation in 2017, and these lessons can be a constructive way for CCLers to move that goal forward on a local level. Chapters can identify specific asks for their members of Congress, like meeting in person, attending an event, or hosting a town hall. By generating constituent letters that support the chapter’s ask, the Envoys can make a delivery that is hard for even the most recalcitrant members to refuse.
In California, Dennis could not have applied these lessons better. After working with his chapter to write letters and cut out relevant news stories from the local paper, they shipped a package off to the CCL Envoys in DC. When the Envoys delivered the letters, they made a special request to Dennis’ representative: “These are letters from your constituents, and they want to meet with you.” Dennis didn’t have to wait long; his congressperson quickly changed his tune and agreed to set up a meeting with Dennis’ chapter!
Max Broad is the co-leader of the DC CCL Chapter, and runs the Envoys program. For those interested in sending letters to the Envoys, they can contact Max at .