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. 


  • use a proactive strategy to reduce the volume of incoming constituent mail. Keep constituents informed through a comprehensive and user-friendly website and regular e-mail 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 its 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.

  • answer e-mail with e-mail. It can make the difference between meeting constituent expectations and appearing out-of-touch.

  • ignore the differences between e-mailers and postal mailers. E-mailers expect a faster reply and shorter responses than postal mailers.

  • 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 e-mail — both solicited and unsolicited — which can result in Ethics Committee investigations, financial penalties, and harmful press coverage.