I won a huge battle last year for my daughter. HUGE. Like, $300k+ PER YEAR kind of huge. Almost entirely by email. So here’s my advice for how to advocate for yourself (and whānau, friends, employees, all the good humans who need your support) by email.

Before you write, you need to be clear on these things:

  1. What the problem is, factually
  2. How the problem is affecting you
  3. Your understanding of where in the system or service, the problem is happening
  4. The outcome you want
  5. If there’s any compromise you’re willing to make

Seriously, don’t even think about emailing until you’re clear on those things – even if you answer to any of them (like #3) is “I don’t know.”  You still need to think them all through.

How to write the email:

  1. Greet politely, but not fake friendly
  2. Express how you’re feeling, very succinctly
  3. State the problem, factually and concisely – and if you can add the solution here, that’s even better
  4. If there’s a lot of background or you need to give a lot of detail to explain the problem, divide it into sections with headings and bullets. Include anything you know or suspect about where or why the problem might be happening
  5. Offer a solution – and if there’s any way you can make this a win-win, that’s your best bet
  6. Now be a bad-ass or kiss-ass: end with a threat or a human pleas for kindness

What I can’t stress to you enough is how you need to be as brief and factual as possible. You need to make it EASY for the person to help you. Don’t expect them to read your novel of pain and frustration. Use headings and bullets because this person will SKIMREAD and you want to help them do it easily.  

What might that look like?

Example 1 (it worked, btw)

How to advocate for yourself by email - letter writing example #1 by Shelly Davies

Example 2 (it worked, btw)

How to advocate for yourself by email - letter writing example #2 - by Shelly Davies

No joy first time? That’s normal. Don’t take it personally.

Time to escalate.

You need to make sure you’re contacting the right person. Yes, you’ll have started with some kind of customer service or complaints or support email. Or maybe it was the person you usually have contact with in that service – like a case manager.  We always need to be aware, though, that those frontline people often have limited authority. We almost always have to start our advocacy process with them, but that is NOT the end of the story.

Do your research, then, about the structure of the organisation. Who is their manager? Who’s the regional manager? Who holds the budget for the thing you’re asking for? 

And if that contact person you have won’t escalate your concerns, know what channels you have for escalating things yourself. Is it an ombudsman? Is it a complaints authority? Is it that you get public on their social media page? (I get good results with this when I’m not getting fast enough action).

There is no single way to work within systems to advocate for yourself or your whānau. But these are the many avenues you can try. And remember – the basic structure of the email will remain the same each time. But you might add in a section that says “what I’ve already tried” or “who I’ve already talked to.”

I truly believe that this can get you amazing results. Both of those examples above worked. I have countless others. And then of course there’s the battle for my daughter.

How to advocate for yourself by email - "Systems can suck, but we can make them work for us, to advocate for ourselves and our whānau" - by Shelly Davies

If you’re wondering –

Here’s how I won the huge battle advocating for my daughter

  1. I banged my head for months in the DHB
  2. I banged my head for months in ACC
  3. I asked someone I knew at Kāinga Ora for advice
  4. She put me onto a special Kāinga Ora team
  5. Kāinga Ora invited ACC and DHB to the party
  6. Kāinga Ora provided a home
  7. We all went round in circles for a while
  8. I asked all of them to escalate my request to the right decision makers
  9. I emailed a Deputy Director General in the Ministry of Health
  10. She forwarded my email to a funding person in the DHB
  11. The funding person called me
  12. There was a fun little ballet between DHB and ACC
  13. We got the funding. And my daughter now lives safe and supported.

Go well, amazing humans. Systems can suck but we can make them work for us. You got this.

(And tell me how it goes!)


Still not convinced? Take a peek at my super-quick, FREE Communication Rockstar course

And when you’re ready to take on the world, my Write Better Emails online course is here to help!

Learn how to advocate for yourself in a major way with my Write Better Emails online course.  It delivers a never-fail formula to instantly apply to EVERY kind of email - Shelly Davies