Student activism is on the rise, as more and more young people are becoming empowered to stand up for causes they believe in. The September 20 climate strike boasted over 10,000 attendees, most of whom were high school students. Whether you marched at the strike or not, you might be wondering what the next step is in holding people accountable for the climate crisis, or any other pressing issue for that matter. One way we as students can make our voices heard is through advocacy letters. These are letters that ask for a certain action to be taken or that express your needs as a stakeholder. They can be sent to businesses, government officials, or agencies via email or paper mail. They are fairly easy to write, in addition to being quick and efficient, since you can draft them at home. If this sounds like an action you want to take but don’t know how to get started, don’t fret. Below is a step-by-step process on how to write an effective advocacy letter.
Step 1: Choose a topic that matters to you and expand that into a change you would like to see.
Step 2: Figure out if this issue would be better addressed by legislation or consumer change.
Although political policy can make a large scale change in a shorter amount of time, businesses tend to be more receptive to feedback since they care about keeping their customers. However, writing to a local representative can still be effective.
Step 3: Select a specific person to address in the letter. This is better than sending your letter to “whoever it may concern” at a given company or government office, as it is more likely to be read. You can usually find your local representatives or a company’s consumer relations team through a quick google search. Take a moment to think if this is the correct person to address your specific issue. Can they actually make the change you want? If it’s sent to someone who doesn’t have the authority to take action, the letter will likely not move past them.
Step 4: After addressing the person, state the change you would like to see clearly. Like the thesis statement of an essay, this allows the reader to know exactly what the purpose of this letter is.
Step 5: Explain why you are a stakeholder in this issue. Have you been a lifetime consumer of Doritos but refuse to eat them until they stop using palm oil? Are you a citizen in your representative’s district who will be eligible to vote soon? Are you a student who is at risk of gun violence in school? Have you studied the issue you’re talking about in-depth? Let them know why your voice is relevant.
Step 6: Provide a bit of background on this issue. Why is what’s currently occurring a problem that needs to be addressed? Why should the person who’s reading it care? Be clear and concise, but also don’t assume the audience is an expert on this issue. Be sure to fact check any claims you make. Citing your sources could also be helpful, if applicable.
Step 7: Offer positive alternatives to what is currently occurring. Think of requests for this person that are achievable. How can they help create the change you want to see? Begin the sentence or paragraph with “I encourage you to” or “I urge you to.” It’s ok if this is a paraphrase or an elaboration on your thesis statement from the beginning of the letter.
Step 8: Thank the reader for their time and urge them once again to take action. Sign it with your full name and consider adding a way they can contact you if you’d like to hear back.
Step 9: Proofread and edit your letter before sending it. If the letter is easy to read and not longer than a page, it’s more likely you’ll keep your reader’s attention. This may require deleting some information that isn’t imperative to getting your message across.
Step 10: Send your letter. Congratulations, you’ve advocated for something that is meaningful to you!
Advocacy letters do have an influence on the decisions made by companies and government officials. After pushback from consumers, General Mills started manufacturing non-GMO Cheerios. Additionally, after pressure from environmentalists, the brand that owns Kleenex and Huggies switched to more recycled and eco-friendly fibers for their products. I have participated in letter-writing events where everyone collaborates and commits to writing a few letters about issues they care about. I’ve also written emails to my local representatives asking that they support an upcoming bill. These experiences have felt empowering and have made me feel like I have some control over large-scale issues. Every person’s voice is important, and advocacy letters serve as a simple way of getting that voice heard.