How to start a petition and/or letter drive at my health center: Part 1

This blog post is part of an 8-week series leading up to the 2012 Policy & Issues Forum, March 21-25. The series is designed to complement the guide “Signing On: A Prescription for Success” by providing practical information for health center advocates beginning or continuing a petition/letter drive, with the goal of delivering petitions/letters to Members of Congress.

When setting up a petition or letter drive at your health center, it is important to keep the big picture in mind. Think of your petition/letter drive in three main parts: Collect, Copy, Deliver (repeat!). In this blog post we’ll just focus on “Collect”.

You could start a petition/letter drive to send a message to your elected officials about virtually any issue of importance to your health center and health center patients. In July 2011, the Campaign For America’s Health Centers (CFAHC) began a year-long effort to petition Congress and the President, telling them: “Do not undermine the successful Health Centers Program as you enact Medicaid changes and cuts to the federal budget.”

>>Read more about the importance and impact of this petition and letter drive in last week’s blog post by Dan Hawkins.

Hundreds of health centers began collecting petitions and letters from patients, staff, board members, and community supporters, with the intent of hand-delivering the petitions/letters to Members of Congress. Here’s how you can begin this simple yet effective effort at your health center:

1. Petitions or letters? You can choose to collect both, or stick with just one type of effort. For petitions, you are simply collecting names and signatures on a form under the petition language. Copies of the petition may be placed in health center waiting rooms allowing hundreds of signatures to be collected within days, as it takes less than a minute for someone to sign.

For letters, you can do virtually the same, printing a pre-written letter for supporters to sign, leaving space at the bottom of the page for personal messages to be added. Alternatively, you could provide a sample letter and instructions asking supporters to write their own letter; hand-written, personal letters have a huge impact and are sure to catch the attention of Congressional staff.

>>Notify supporters regularly of your effort’s progress; you could use email, social media updates, and staff and board meetings. You can even notify the media to share with your community about your petition/letter drive; download a press release template here.

Whether you choose a petition form or letters, make sure you provide space for supporters to include at least their zip code, if not their full mailing address. This information is important to show elected officials that the petitioners reside in the official’s legislative district. Don’t worry if your health center’s supporters come from multiple legislative districts; the same petitions and letters may be sent to multiple Congressional offices.

>>If you are collecting petition signatures, keep a very visible running tally of signatures collected in your health center waiting room to show supporters your progress. If you are collecting letters, consider displaying copies of signed letters in the waiting room to publicly thank those who have signed and to encourage others to join the effort! The visual display also makes for great pictures to include in your supporter update communications.

2. Download templates. CFAHC provides both petition and letter templates (available in both English and Spanish) that can be customized for your health center. Feel free to add your health center’s name and logo!

3. Collect completed petitions/letters. Have a point person at each health center site who collects completed petitions/letters, keeps a running tally of signatures collected, and replenishes the waiting room with new petition forms and letters as needed.

>>Don’t just limit your efforts inside your health center! Consider asking partner organizations and community businesses to help by placing a petition form on site. Any time your health center has a display table at a community event or health fair bring your petition!

Stay tuned for future blog posts over the coming weeks with more information on how to run a successful petition/letter drive at your health center. Click here to download our complete advocate guide to collecting and delivering petitions and letters to Congress.

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