Building Trust & Effectiveness in Congress
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Summary of Chapter 14: Managing Constituent Communications

*Excerpt from Setting Course: A Congressional Management Guide, copyright Congressional Management Foundation. 


    • be proactive to reduce the volume of incoming constituent mail. Keep constituents informed through a comprehensive and user-friendly website and regular email and social media updates.

    • assess the priority of mail in your office. It is counterproductive to assign mail a high priority and then fail to devote the resources to answer it appropriately.

    • adopt the CMF Mail System, which enables an office to answer 85% of mail with pre-approved form letters in about one week.

    • recognize that timeliness is of the utmost importance to constituents. A prompt one-page response is more desirable than a longer, more detailed response received several weeks later.

    • treat mail backlogs as an office problem, not an individual staffer’s problem. It is the Member’s reputation at stake, not the staff’s.

    • adhere to a consistent and timely process for the logging and coding of constituent interactions. Such a scheme will enable you to better track and respond to the needs of constituents.

    • respond via email. More and more offices are replying to any constituent message (regardless of incoming method) with email if they have an email address on file.
    • ignore the expectations of constituents. Email has made people expect a faster reply and shorter responses.

    • discount the concerns of e-mailers. Most of them are just as committed to their issues as traditional postal writers.

    • view mail as simply something to react to. If you do, you will become a content provider instead of legislating, conducting outreach and district/state projects, and meeting the larger needs of constituents.

    • fail to establish clear mail policies. Consider the desired turnaround; the quality of replies; which mail to answer; and the degree of Member involvement.

    • allow the Member to slow the mail approval process. When the Member regularly functions as a mail logjam, ask him to rethink the priority of speedy mail turnaround, or come up with a strategy to approve mail more quickly.

    • violate House and Senate rules governing mass communications and email — both solicited and unsolicited — which can result in Ethics Committee investigations, financial penalties, and harmful press coverage.