ADVOCACY 101: The Citizens’ Guide to Advocacy

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The best advocate for the arts is YOU.

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!

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Getting Your Message Across: Tips for Strengthening Communication with Legislators

Advocacy is an ongoing process. Legislators face so many competing causes that one visit 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.

Meeting 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.

  1. Call to make an appointment and be punctual.
  2. Come prepared. Have written material to leave with elected officials and their staff. Make sure to include appropriate contact information.
  3. Introduce yourself as a representative or supporter of ____organization, in ___ (City, County).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Be sure to restate your request, asking specifically for their support.
  7. Whatever the outcome, be sure to thank the official and his/her assistant/s for their time.
  8. Send a thank you note as a follow-up to your visit.

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Advocacy Do's

Do be courteous and friendly. Refer to Legislators as 'Senator [Last Name]' or 'Delegate [Last Name].’
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.

Advocacy Dont's

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.
Don't forget to enjoy your visit! Use your enthusiasm, smiles, and eye contact to keep your legislators engaged.

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Writing your Legislator- Letters, Faxes, and Emails

As a rule, the substance of the communication is more important than the form. However, mailing your letter is still the most preferable way to send your correspondence to an elected official.

Mail vs. Fax/Email

If timeliness is your key concern, use email or fax to send your message. Although handling and tracking of electronic and regular mail is usually identical, email is logged sooner. However, if time permits, mailing your letter is preferable. Do not send identical letters through more than one venue (i.e.: faxing and also mailing a hard copy).

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.

Letter Checklist

  1. Make sure your return address is on the letter, not just on the envelope.
  2. 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.
  3. Address the envelope and the letter "The Honorable [Full Name]." Use Dear Senator, Delegate, Congressman, or Congresswoman [Last Name] in the salutation.
  4. If you are writing in regards to a specific piece of legislation, identify the bill number within the first few sentences of the letter.
  5. Focus on one issue per letter.
  6. Indicate the action you want the official to take, the need for the action, and how it will benefit your cause.
  7. Be sure to thank the official, even if they don't support your position.
  8. Be relatively brief. Anything much longer than one typewritten page (not including any attached articles, charts, etc) should probably be shortened.

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Phoning your Legislator

If you don't have time to write your legislator, you can call him/her.

  1. Write down the key points you want to make before you call.
  2. 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.
  3. Keep the conversation to the point.
  4. Make sure to leave your name, address and telephone number so someone can call you back with the official's position on the issue.
  5. Thank the official/assistant for their time.

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10 Grassroots Actions You Can Carry Out in Your Own Community

Becoming a Grassroots Arts Advocate involves getting involved in your local and state political community. Then you can act as a bridge between your local artists and arts organizations and their elected officials. Below are 10 actions you can take to become an effective Arts Advocate:

  1. JOIN MCA!  Being on our e-mail list is the best way to stay informed about Maryland Arts issues, and to know when and how to Take Action to support the Arts.
  2. Write, fax, phone or e-mail the Governor and your representatives in the General Assembly and ask them to support public arts funding. Consult our Advocacy 101 Guide for tips on communicating with elected officials.
  3. Ask your local officials (mayors, city/council members) to write a letter to their county delegation in support of public arts funding and the importance of retaining the state commitment.
  4. Get involved in local politics and educate political candidates about arts issues before they take office. Consult NASAA’s Election Primer on our website.
  5. Welcome new state and local officials to office after an election and offer assistance on questions about arts issues.
  6. Work to cultivate spokespersons for the arts in your community, and ask them to carry the message to local and state elected officials. Ideally, these should be highly visible individuals with access to your representatives (i.e. – business leaders, political contributors, civic leaders, board members, etc). Encourage other boards and organizations to adopt a statement in support of public arts funding.
  7. Work with the media in your community. Write a letter to the editor or place op-ends, arrange editorial board meetings with newspapers, ask your local TV and radio stations to announce arts events, or arrange to appear on a local TV or radio talk show to discuss public support for the arts. For more information, consult the Media section of our Legislative Action Center and read the Media Primer. 
  8. Work with local arts organizations to establish a Government Affairs Committee to monitor issues affecting public arts funding.
  9. Invite your elected officials to any arts events with which you are connected and ask them to participate. Be sure to turn any event like this into a press opportunity.
  10. Recognize your elected officials for their support of the arts whenever possible.

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Contact information for legislators on Senate and House budget committees

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! 

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