Last month, Congress voted to maintain funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Congress also increased the funding for both endowments and IMLS. The funding was then approved by President Trump despite his administration’s initial proposal to eliminate the cultural government agencies. This happened largely thanks to the mobilization of arts advocates that conveyed their messages to Congress on the importance of the arts and humanities in their communities.
A similar proposal to eliminate arts and culture funding was also on the chopping block last year, yet this threat was also saved by consistent advocacy. This constant pressure put on Congress members has real power to impact policy decisions, however advocacy is a relationship built between advocates and their representatives. It should be similar to networking, where a round of consistent effort is followed up with a thank you for the lawmakers support.
The Other Side of Digital Tools
Digital advocacy tools for letter and email-writing campaigns are used to persuade key influencers to support a cause through funding or legislation, but they can also be utilized to deliver a simple “thank you” as appreciation for their work.
Saying thank you is a common practice in nonprofit fundraising, which should be incorporated into advocacy as well. Expressing appreciation to supporters, whether donors or policy makers, leads to good stewardship of their representatives. In addition, this can help those representatives stay engaged with the organization and continue to support it. Robert Hartsook quoted a banker about the importance of thank you, “we can do a lot of things to celebrate a gift that has been made; but what we need to be sure of, is that we know exactly how we are going to say 'thank you.' ” (Hartsook 1995). There are various ways in which arts organizations can express appreciation to supporters like letters, phone calls, in-person visits, and even using digital story methods like video and photography.
Treat legislators like donors
Individuals have a slight advantage because they can advocate more often, organizations cannot always focus their resources on advocacy as they work on programming for their community and stakeholders. Although time is precious, there are a few simple courtesies that should always come as part of advocacy. According to the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest (now part of the National Council of Nonprofits), “legislative staffers repeatedly say that legislators seldom receive thanks. Sending your thanks is the right thing to do and is a great way to strengthen a relationship.” When thanking funders and legislators, it creates a connection between representatives and the arts organizations in their districts. Just like nonprofit organizations thank donors, arts organizations should treat legislative support in the same manner.
Arts organizations focus their resources on the needs of the organizations themselves, but that does not mean that they should not be a part of advocacy. A way to stay engaged with advocacy is to create and steward relationships with legislators that represent the organization’s region. Laurel O’Sullivan, founder of Advocacy Collaborated was quoted in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "just like you want to build relationships with your funders and grant makers, you need to get to know your lawmakers” (Philanthropy 47). This way, legislators become aware of the work the arts organizations do and can better serve the cultural entities that impact their region and constituents.
Connecting digitally on many levels
There are a variety of digital advocacy tools available to write to lawmakers. While most of these tools are focused on federal advocacy, there are also online resources on how to reach state and municipal legislators. Check out AMT Lab’s post on connecting with state legislators for more information.
There are also sample letter templates available on the web, which can be used for reference. The key is, however, to personalize the message so it is more impactful. Check out additional tips from the Council of Nonprofits on Writing a Letter to Your Legislator. Also, some state arts agencies require grantees to thank their lawmakers. Take for instance, the California Arts Council, “grantees must send thank you letters to the Governor of the State of California and to state legislators.” No matter what digital tool is used to draft thank you letters, be sure it includes:
- the constituent’s address and zip code,
- the legislator’s title and name,
- and the legislator's office address.
In-person is best
By doing some research, learn when your lawmakers’ office are to town to thank them in-person. Resistbot has a function in which updates advocates of when federal lawmakers host upcoming town hall meetings for in-person visits. This is an opportunity to invite them to the organization so they can see the impact of arts funding in action in their districts. Legislators will be able to see how their districts are thriving because of arts funding and continue to support it.
Taking the time to advocate can be too time consuming for many arts organizations. However, state and federal funding is a form of contributed income that deserves a little consideration. Building up this relationship may cost time, but it can produce new sources of funding. When working on these relationships, take the time to thank and connect with lawmakers for their support. The key is to build relationships and trust with lawmakers so that the arts can continue to thrive in our communities.
Hartsook, Robert F. "But have you really said thank you?" Fund Raising Management, March 1995. Accessed May 5, 2018.
“Sample Governor and State Legislator Thank You Letters.” California Arts Council. May 1, 2016. Accessed April 18, 2018. http://www.cac.ca.gov/programs/program_files/shared_files/CAC_Grants-Sample_Thank_You_Letter.pdf.
Stiffman, Eden. “11 Ways for Nonprofits to Build Ties with Lawmakers.” Chronicle of Philanthropy 29, no. 7 (May 1, 2017): 47.
“Top 11 Advocacy Software Options for Nonprofits.” Fundly (blog). Accessed March 30, 2018. https://blog.fundly.com/nonprofit-advocacy-software/.
“Writing A Letter to Your Legislator.” Center For Lobbying in the Public Interest. 2007. April 18, 2018. https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/sites/default/files/documents/07_writeletter.pdf.