2. Do your own research. Look up specific pieces of legislation and actually try to read them. Become familiar with keywords. This might be a little intimidating but take a look at GovTrack to see what legislation is introduced, voted on, and has been passed or sent to committees. You can even subscribe to track specific keywords. I suggest Foreign Aid and Global Development. You’ll get a few emails per week, but unless you’re tracking a lot of keywords you won’t be inundated.
3. Make use of the vast amount of research other people do. Watch the news and stay up to date with bigger pieces of legislation in all other subjects. Subscribe to other nonprofits’ emailing lists to be informed when a relevant bill or amendment is going to be voted on. ONE.org is one such example.
4. Know who your Congress members are and what committees they sit on. Every citizen of the United States has one representative (for district) and two senators (per state). Take a look at Who Is My Representative.com. Enter your zip code or search by state, and put your representative and senators in your phone. Look up your Congress members’ web sites and take note of what committees they sit on.
5. Call as often as — and more often than — you email or write. Calling is immediate. Emails get buried, and letters take a while to get to an office, much less opened. When you write or email, you are likely to get a delayed stock reply. While it can help you learn about your Congress member’s priorities, it also comes only as fast as snail mail!
Once you’re armed with knowledge, get in a routine of contacting your representatives. When you do call, specific is always better, but if you don’t have a specific piece of legislation to call about, don’t lose your voice. Ask for increased funding to the Millennium Challenge Account. Ask for the representative to stand for balanced funding cuts instead of unevenly taking funding from foreign aid. Ask for the representative to support poverty-focused aid. Your representatives don’t just vote on legislation, they have a large responsibility to co-sponsor or introduce it. Get your voice out there!