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Write Your Own Action Alerts

What’s an Action Alert?

Action alerts are messages that spur your advocates and the general public to get involved with your campaign.  Whether by e-mail, a letter, phone call, or even on Facebook, action alerts can be used to accomplish a variety of goals: 1) To educate residents in your community about your issue; 2) To strengthen advocates’ engagement with your campaign; or 3) To put your advocates in direct touch with public officials to prompt policy change.

We’ve included two different examples of action alerts below, an “Issue Introduction” alert and a “Contact Your Legislator” alert, to guide you through the process of writing your own. Before we get started, here are a few general tips to keep in mind:

  • Know your audience! This will help you determine the appropriate frame, tone, activation, and messenger for your alert.
  • Subject lines determine whether someone opens your message, so make sure to keep them short, include a sense of urgency, and provide a preview of your message to tap into the reader’s curiosity. There are free resources online that will help test how likely your subject line is to be seen as spam as well as other key metrics. www.subjectline.com is one option, but do an online search to find the one that is right for you.
  • Make sure to include the name of the person you’re contacting. Depending on how you are sending your message, this may need to be done manually, or through a merge field from your online contact database.
  • Include a brief background or update on your campaign to reinforce your goals and help your advocates understand your cause. Creating a base level sense of understanding will connect your audience to your campaign and encourage them to take a specific action, like signing a petition or reaching out to decision makers.
  • Clear action links should be included in your message. Using bolded text and call-out boxes can help draw readers’ attention to the goal.
  • Include the state, town, or county in the subject line and/or body of the message to make the message more relevant for your audience.
  • Consider the story arc and narrative flow of your message to clearly identify the issue, how your campaign is working to resolve it, and how the reader can get involved. Strategically include compelling statistics, links to resources, and clear calls-to-action to help tell a story.

Problem, Solution, Urgency! Write your action alert in a way that first highlights the problem, then offers a solution, and tell the reader why they should take action now.

Now, let’s walk through two examples!

“Issue Introduction” Action Alert

E-mail Subject Line

Ex. YOU Can Improve the Health and Safety of [CITY]’s Kids

Dear [NAME],


What helps create a thriving community? The connections we have with one another, the safety of our neighborhoods, and our ability to make healthy choices. We are all working hard for a city built upon these things, but right now, there are several obstacles standing in our way. Mainly, the lack of sidewalks, bike lanes, and crosswalks needed to get where we need to go while being physically active.

Many of our current streets desperately need improving. The kind of streets [YOUR ORGANIZATION] is trying to bring to our community would be connecting points for neighbors and allow cars, bikes, and pedestrians to all travel together safely. They would be streets built to share™.

Called “complete streets” by city planners, these streets would be built with sidewalks and bike lanes included so that everyone—whether you are a kid biking to school, a runner out on a morning jog, or a commuter walking or rolling to the bus—can safely get from one place to another.

Be sure to mention your state or local community so your advocates feel connected to the issue.

Complete streets are the first step as we work together to build a neighborhood that supports the safety and health of everyone who lives here.  So, what can you do to help bring them to [CITY]?

Include a link to your informational resources, organization website, blog, or sign-up sheet. If someone is interested in your cause, give them the opportunity to get involved right away.

Join [ORGANIZATION] to help make a healthier, safer, and more connected town a reality. Visit [URL] to get involved.

If you’re the leader of your campaign, include your name here. If someone else is the main point of contact, and you’re writing this action alert on behalf of a larger group, make sure to include that person’s name and/or the name of your organization. If you are using someone else’s name, be sure to have them review the text and provide you with their approval before the message is sent.

Thank you,


“Contact Your Legislator” Action Alert

If legislative change is needed to create standards for healthy walking and biking paths, then be sure to reach out to your elected officials to educate them about your cause and tell them how they can be involved. Use this kind of action alert to empower your advocates to send letters to their local legislators either about a specific bill (lobbying) or to support your cause in general (non-lobbying).

If there is a bill pending in the legislature, then the following action alert would be grassroots lobbying, because it is a communication to the public that reflects a view on specific legislation and includes a call-to-action. If there is no pending bill and the email is simply asking legislators to support a general policy—then it would not be lobbying and you may use VFHK non-lobbying dollars to pay for all related costs.

The following action alert would be non-lobbying, unless it’s clear that “streets that are built to share” refers to a specific bill. For example, if there’s a bill being debated in the legislature that would prevent additional bike lanes across your state, and you urged supporters to contact their legislators with the message to help establish additional options for complete streets, that would be viewed as lobbying. But if the message does not clearly reference a bill currently under consideration, then it would not be lobbying. Similarly, your message could say “tell the Department of Health to support statewide standards for complete streets”—that would not be lobbying, because it refers to administrative action, not to legislation.

Be sure to check out the Lobbying vs. Non-Lobbying Checklist for full guidelines.

Create a sense of urgency in your subject line to spark immediate action, and include the state or local community to make the message more personal.

E-mail Subject Line

Ex. Are “complete streets” in [STATE] important?!

Dear [NAME],

When you think about a healthy, connected town, what do you imagine? Kids safely biking to school? Parents leisurely pushing strollers around neighborhoods? Older adults easily walking to the bus stop?

So do we!

Be sure to include hyperlinks and visuals to draw your reader’s attention and get them to click-through to learn more.

Towns thrive and flourish when people of all ages and abilities are able to walk, bike, and roll on streets that include sidewalks, bike lanes, and crosswalksAnd that’s why we need your help to call for complete streets in [CITY]!

Include statistics and research to show how this issue has a detrimental impact on your community.

Unfortunately, the roads throughout [CITY] don’t currently meet the needs of walkers, bikers, and public transit riders, making it difficult to safely get around town and be physically active.  But our local leaders and city planners have the power to change that by enacting a complete streets policy that considers the transportation needs of all of our residents, not just the cars and trucks.

Reference that we can work together to resolve this issue, but that we also need our elected officials to be involved in creating change as well.

Join us in telling [the City Council] to support streets that are built to share!

If you’re the leader of your campaign, include your name here. If someone else is the main point of contact, and you’re writing this action alert on behalf of a larger group, make sure to include that person’s name and/or the name of your organization. If you are using someone else’s name, be sure to have them review the text and provide you with their approval before the message is sent.

Thank you for taking action for the safe, connected neighborhoods we deserve,