Public Speaker and Advocate - Challenge America
Torrey Shannon works closely with organizations like Challenge America and Challenge Aspen as an advocate, helping veterans and their families improve their quality of life in the face of military injuries and post traumatic…
Creating An Effective Paper Trail For Accountability - Part 6 of Becoming an Effective Advocate for Yourself and Others
Posted in Career Changes by Torrey L. Shannon on Sep 21, 2010
This article is the sixth in a series of articles covering the overall topic of advocacy. If you are like me, there was no “handbook” at my fingertips when I faced difficult situations that would erupt in the course of caring for my disabled spouse. Sharing my own research and experience, many times learned through trial and error, I hope to offer my insight on what works best so you can become an effective advocate too.

As I shared in my first article covering the basics of advocacy, and in my second article on raising your self esteem, you first have to believe in yourself before you can convince others to believe in you! My third article explained ways you can create your own positive changes. My fourth article brought us to the topic of learning how to get what you want or need, and my last article covered ways you can target your efforts and provided an example for practice. This article will cover different ways you can ask for what you want by creating an effective paper trail.

By taking these steps and practicing them, you will learn that becoming an effective advocate for yourself and others is a very rewarding experience.

Creating an effective paper trail for accountability.

One of the most powerful tools you can use for getting what you want or need is through the use of written letters. Letters, particularly those sent by certified mail, are hard to make “disappear.” When you put your request in writing, you've just created a piece of evidence that can be held in the hands and reviewed by another person months or years down the road. It's real, it's solid, and if it disappears from someone else’s files, you have a back-up copy and that little green post card to prove that it was delivered.

Why are letters so important? Emails can be purged by accident, fax machines can lose power or ink, and phone calls are even less effective if you are met with a representative who will tell you anything you want to hear just to get you off the phone. The moment you hang up the phone, you have no real way to prove the call even existed. While it’s not always possible to conduct business without making a certain number of phone calls, it’s always best if you follow up with each call by using a letter to outline and confirm the content of your call. This way, if anyone claims to find no “record” of your calling to discuss an important matter, you are armed with all the information you need to prove the call existed in the first place.

A single letter that is brief and tells the reader just exactly what you want is more powerful than a hundred phone calls.

If you do need to make phone calls to gather information or keep track of what is going on, be sure to keep a written record of your calls on a call log, and keep them in a safe place. Your call logs should include the date of your call, with whom you spoke, issues addressed, and the promised action.

Here are some tips on how to ask for what you want by phone:

1. Identify yourself, and ask for the name and position of the person with whom you are talking. Many government agencies assign an identification number to their call center employees. Ask for it, and write it down on your call log along with the date and time of your call.

2. Briefly tell the person taking your call what you want. If the person is unable to help you, ask to be transferred to someone who can but request the name and extension of the person you are being connected with BEFORE the call is transferred. This way, if you are disconnected, you can call back and ask for that extension. This information should be added on your call log sheet.

3. After you reach the person in charge of handling your situation, give the person the opportunity to give you what you want or need. If you find the person cannot help you right away, ask when he or she will get back with you and what date you should expect action. Add this information to your call log.

4. If you do not hear back from the person when expected, the promised action is not taken, or the situation is not resolved, this is when you should write a letter to make the person accountable for doing what he or she promised to do.

5. Similarly, if you do reach a resolution or find someone that was particularly helpful, writing a letter of thanks will open a door for future contact in case you need the help again.

Letter writing tips:

1. Keep it short, concise, and clear. One page is best as longer letters may not even be read.

2. Keep it legible. If possible, use a computer or typewriter to make the letter easier to read.

3. In your first paragraph, tell the recipient exactly what you want. Add more details or information to support your request in the rest of the letter.

4. If appropriate, send copies of your letter to others that should be informed of your situation such as an advocacy agency or your legislator. Do this by adding “CC” at the bottom of your letter with a list of people who will be receiving a copy.

5. Send your letter by certified mail, and request a return receipt. This little green post card is the only verifiable way to prove your letter was received in the first place.

By writing letters to ask for what you want, you also remove the face-to-face confrontation that may occur in stressful situations. Keep a file that contains copies of your letters and the return postcard proving it was delivered. When people receive letters for which they have to sign, they just made themselves accountable by signing their name on the delivery confirmation card. If the person receiving the letter realizes that there is evidence that he or she did not do the job, that person will be more inclined to take the appropriate steps to help you. Chances are, everyone involved in the receipt of your letter is going to make sure that your request receives the attention it deserves.

My next and final entry to this advocacy series discusses knowing what your rights are. This will help you understand that asking for what you want or need is well within your rights as an individual, and also to identify when your rights have been violated.

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