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As members of the arts community (including staff, volunteers, artists, and audiences), your first-hand knowledge of the arts and their impact in your community is one of the most important components of any advocacy campaign seeking the support of legislators. View our Advocacy Toolkit below.
All members of the arts community (including staff, volunteers, artists, and audiences) have the expertise needed to make the case for public arts funding. Your first-hand knowledge of the arts and their impact in your community is one of the most important components of any advocacy campaign seeking the support of legislators.
Remember that politics is about consensus. Issues with a strong grassroots constituency have a powerful advantage. Make it easier for legislators to support arts programs by making them aware of the strong support the arts has within their community.
All politics is local. Local, constituent voices carry the most weight with politicians (they are elected to represent those constituents, after all). Therefore, you should focus on your own elected officials or those who represent the district which includes your arts organization. Take advantage of your local legislator’s accessibility by visiting their district offices. Find your legislator here.
Politics thrives on personal relationships. Think of arts advocacy as a year-round commitment and work with your legislators as you would other community partners. Let your elected officials know you are able to act as a resource for them if they have questions about the arts community. The tangible results are worth your efforts!
Meet With Your Legislator
Meeting in person with your legislator is a wonderful way to cultivate a relationship, personalize your message, and ensure that your legislator knows exactly where you stand on a particular issue.
- Call to make an appointment and be punctual.
- Come prepared. Have written material to leave with elected officials and their staff. Make sure to include appropriate contact information.
- Introduce yourself as a representative or supporter of ____organization, in ___ (City, County).
- Be brief and use specific examples that relate to your organization, community, school, etc., e.g., state funds made this specific program possible and it reached thousands of children; this program assisted in the redevelopment of a downtown area; etc.
- Try to bring legislators into the conversation yourself by asking for their comments and concerns; this will give you a chance to offer your experience and assistance regarding arts-related issues and the opportunity to re-frame your request based on their concerns.
- Be sure to restate your request, asking specifically for their support.
- Whatever the outcome, be sure to thank the official and his/her assistant/s for their time.
- Send a thank you note as a follow-up to your visit.
Advocacy Do's & Don’ts
Do be courteous and friendly. Refer to Legislators as ‘Senator [Last Name]’ or ‘Delegate [Last Name].’
Do take the opportunity to say ‘Thank You’ whenever it arises.
Do know the issues thoroughly and be familiar with all sides of an issue. (Stay informed by signing up for MCA’s Advocacy E-List and by checking our website regularly.)
Do be a good listener. You will have a better chance to address any objections to arts funding if you know why your elected official is opposed.
Do humanize your message. Include anecdotal stories about how programs and public dollars impact real people.
Do make sure your elected officials are on your mailing list if you work for a cultural organization.
Do send personalized invitations to them for performances, exhibits, special events, and receptions. If they attend, acknowledge their presence publicly and thank them for their support.
Do get to know elected officials’ staff members and keep them informed on an ongoing basis. Invite staff members to events and cultural programs as well as the elected officials.
Do participate in building strong local and statewide coalitions with other cultural, civic, educational and business institutions in the public and private sector. These partners are invaluable tools for garnering support.
Do enlist legislators you know are supportive of the arts to lobby their colleagues to come over to your position.
Do use your enthusiasm, smiles, and eye contact to keep your legislators engaged.
Don’t preach or lecture.
Don’t use a negative or intimidating tone.
Don’t expect your meeting with your legislator to be long, especially when the General Assembly is in session. Maximize your time by whittling down your presentation to include an opening statement, a few supporting details, a closing summary, and a request.
Don’t bluff. If you don’t know an answer, say so, and call back with the correct information at the next opportunity.
Don’t accept a general answer to your request. In a positive manner, request the official’s specific views on the issue in question.
Don’t wait until the last minute to contact your elected official about an issue before the legislature.
Follow Up With Your Legislator
Advocacy is an ongoing process. Legislators face so many competing causes that one visits or one letter won’t make much of an impact. Open the door for further communication by following up. Follow up a meeting with a note thanking them and further explaining points brought up at the meeting. Follow up a letter with a phone call. Not only will you be able to state your position again, you will make a stronger, more memorable impression on your legislator and his/her staff.
Now that you have learned the basics for cultivating a relationship with your elected officials, please visit this website to find contact information for all the current Senators and Delegates that serve on the budget committees. These committees make the recommendations to the full House and Senate on the Governor’s budget bill. Their recommendations are typically followed, so these legislators are ones to focus on contacting about the Arts!
Write/Email Your Legislator
Personal Letters vs. Form Letters
Using your own words has more impact than simply forwarding a form letter. Form letters can serve as good models for composing your own personal response, but including a personalized note or anecdote makes a higher impact.
- Make sure your return address is on the letter, not just on the envelope.
- If you are writing to an official in your district, include your voter registration number to let them know you’re a registered voter in his/her district.
- Address the envelope and the letter “The Honorable [Full Name].” Use Dear Senator, Delegate, Congressman, or Congresswoman [Last Name] in the salutation.
- If you are writing in regards to a specific piece of legislation, identify the bill number within the first few sentences of the letter.
- Focus on one issue per letter.
- Indicate the action you want the official to take, the need for the action, and how it will benefit your cause.
- Be sure to thank the official, even if they don’t support your position.
- In general, brevity is the best route – try and make your letter as clear and concise as possible.
Call Your Legislator
- Write down the key points you want to make before you call.
- If the official isn’t available, ask to speak to the official’s assistant. Make sure to get their name.
- Introduce yourself, state your position and the name of your organization if applicable.
- Keep the conversation to the point.
- Make sure to leave your name, address and telephone number so someone can call you back with the official’s position on the issue.
- Thank the official/assistant for their time.