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Participating in Federal Public Policy: A Guide for the Voluntary Sector

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E-mail Alerts 12


An e-mail message sent out to your membership list, government and media contacts, or community groups about news and/or events that involve your organization or the issues with which your organization is concerned.


  • Get your facts straight. Your message will circulate widely so double-check the information. Even a small mistake can make it easy for your opponents to dismiss your issues.
  • Establish authenticity by including information about the sponsoring organization and provide the reader with several ways of tracing back to you - e-mail address, postal address, URL, phone number. Including this information allows people to establish contact with your organization.
  • Date the message and give your recommended action a clearly stated timeframe, for example, "Take this action until February 17, 2003."
  • Make the message self-contained and easy to understand. Don't presuppose that your readers will have any context of the issue or event.
  • Define your terms, avoid references to previous messages and provide instructions on where to access background materials. Consider making the e-mail relatively short so that people will read it and include the URL for a Web page that provides the full details. It is crucial to begin with a good, clear headline that summarizes the issue and the recommended action. Choose words that will be understood worldwide and not just in your own country or culture.
  • For the Toronto Community Economic Development Web site lists of electronic advocacy resources visit: links/ Business-Related_Resources/ Electronic_Advocacy/
  • Ask your readers to take a simple, clearly defined and rationally chosen action and to inform you of their actions. Include all relevant information necessary for people to take action (for example, contact information, suggested script to follow, suggested method of action such as e-mail, letters or phone calls).
  • Make the message easy to read. Use a simple, clear layout with lots of white space. Break up long paragraphs. Use bullets and section headings to avoid visual monotony. If your organization plans to send out e-mails regularly, use a distinctive design so that readers can recognize your "brand" instantly.
  • To see an example of an electronic letter-writing campaign visit the World Wildlife Fund Canada website at: HowYouCanHelp/ SendALetter/SendALetter.asp
  • Start a movement, not a panic. You are trying to address a targeted group of people who are inclined to care about an issue. Your message should contribute to a long-term process of influencing public policy. Do encourage those on your list to implore the support of others but do not say "forward this to everyone you know" or overstate your case.
  • Do not use a chain-letter petition. A chain-letter petition is an e-mail that includes a list of names, invites people to add their own names and asks them to forward the e-mail-plus-signature-list to everyone they know. This idea sounds great in the abstract but it really doesn't work.
  • Don't mistake e-mail for organizing.The Internet is a useful tool for organizing but it's just one tool and one medium among many that you will need and you should evaluate it in terms of its contribution to larger organizing goals.


  • E-mail alerts are cost effective in distributing large amounts of information to a wide audience base.
  • The speed of delivery and response that e-mail alerts provide make it an attractive option.


  • Some people cannot access the Internet (although most public libraries have free access).
  • The message may become distorted.

Resources and links on using the internet to influence public policy

Democracies Online
Network for Good npo/advocacy
E-Advocates case.html
Petition Online - Online Petition Hosting
Environment and Society dept/environ/guide/index.html
Progressive Technology Project
Virtual Activist Training Course training/part1.html

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Last Updated: 2019-11-15