Letter writing campaigns — also known as petitions, sign-on letters, or mass email campaigns — are a low-cost, low-effort campaign strategy. They are most effective when backed by additional advocacy strategies. As a primary focus, writing campaigns are usually most effective when a policymaker will be faced with a decision related to your bottom line. For example, when a new or existing legislation will be voted on in parliament, or when a policymaker will be revising a budget and you would like more money to go to refugee livelihoods programming. As a secondary focus, writing campaigns educate your partners and target policymakers. As an indirect benefit, organizing a writing campaign helps you understand who is interested in connecting with your organization on an important issue. This page will highlight the benefits and limitations of using letter writing campaigns as a strategy, guide you to identify your target audience in your letter-writing campaign, and provide practical advice on organizing a letter writing campaign.
- Letter writing campaigns:
- Allow you to target different audiences
- Useful for identifying partners who want to contribute to your efforts
- Are flexible, low-cost and relatively simple to organize
- A way to show the constituents that you care about the issue
- Not usually effective at persuading a staunch opponent
- Not useful when the policymaker does not have anything at hand to act upon
Identifying your campaign’s target audience
After identifying your policymaker, you need to decide who you will target for signing-on to your writing campaign. When deciding, consider who will be most effective at influencing your policymaker. Usually, this is one of two possible populations: (1) the general public; or (2) a set of key players and experts. The following sections discuss the pros and cons of both approaches.
Targeting the general public
Mass sign-ons targeted at the general public are most effective when you believe a policymaker will be influenced by constituents. However, meaningfully reaching the general public can be time-consuming and expensive, as it may require allocating resources toward community organizing. It can be difficult to get a meaningful portion of the general public to support refugee rights writing campaigns if xenophobia is widespread or if economic conditions make any outsider population a threat.
Targeting key players
More targeted writing campaigns are most effective when you believe a policymaker will be influenced by other key players including other members of civil society, multilateral organizations or government agencies, as opposed to constituents. Writing campaigns focused on key player sign-on requires little cost and little energy, and are generally relatively easy to execute. Often in the refugee rights space, it may be more effective to present a policymaker with a writing campaign backed by experts as opposed to the general public.
Best practices in letter writing campaigns
There are some best practices in issuing writing campaigns for sign-ons by key influencers:
- Circulate your draft sign-on once a week for comments and edits. This allows your partners and opponents an opportunity to contribute and promotes inclusion and collaboration.
- Circulate the sign-on for no more than one month. This creates a sense of urgency and importance for the sign-on, and doesn’t allow the issue to fall off your partners’ radar.
- If you are sending the sign-on to important players, avoid having individuals simultaneously sign-on. This increases the level of professionalism for the sign-on letter. If you feel it is worthwhile to allow specific influential people to sign-on (such as certain academics), create a separate space for individuals to sign-on.
- Consider using google forms to collect your sign-ons.
- Consider writing individual letters to key players in order to demonstrate to them the value of their participation.
- Try to keep sign-on letters no more than one to two pages in length. The longer the letter, the greater the likelihood that key players may find a point of disagreement and decline to sign.
Case study: Asylum access refugee work rights coalition’s campaign
The Asylum Access Refugee Work Rights Coalition advocates for promoting refugees’ right to enjoy safe and lawful employment. As a campaign strategy, the Refugee Work Rights Coalition issued a writing campaign asking the UNHCR to prioritize livelihood programs and advocacy surrounding refugees’ work rights. Specifically, the coalition asked the UNHCR to increase funding for the livelihoods unit, which oversees the right to work programming internationally.
The Work Rights Coalition decided to write specifically to Antonio Guterres, the UNHCR High Commissioner at the time, because the High Commissioner was scheduled to meet with the Executive Committee of UNHCR to decide on institutional priorities and how those relate to the annual budget.
The Work Right Coalition chose to seek out key leaders in the field, such as Women’s Refugee Commission, to sign-on because the Coalition believed people who had a credible and reliable expertise in refugee work rights and a good working relationship with UNHCR were most likely to influence Antonio Guterres. For a sample of the Work Right Coalition’s sign-on letter, refer to the downloadable material below.
- Work Rights Coalition Sample Sign-on Letter
- ACLU’s Guide to Writing Elected Officials (American Civil Liberties Union)
- Tips for E-Activism (Amnesty International)