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2011-2 VAM WHITE PAPER: Setting Up an Advocacy Network

Margo Carlock

Virginia Association of Museums 2011-2


Setting Up an Advocacy Network Advocacy is for Everyone Every one of us has a representative in the state legislature and a representative in the U. S. Congress. We each have senators, too. They were elected to represent our viewpoints and concerns – their constituents. That is their job. And they need our help to do it. Spring is in the air and baseball season is not far behind. With that in mind, let’s use a baseball analogy.

Know Who is in Your Dugout Before you step into the realm of advocating for your museum, it’s important to take stock of who you have “in your corner” – stakeholders and other allies are vitally important as you prepare to make your case in front of legislators, elected officials or community leaders. Those in each of the following groups are your allies for different reasons, and they each benefit from your museum in different ways. It’s important to consider these potential supporters and their viewpoints as you prepare to be an advocate.

Team These are people who are closest to your institution, with the most “skin in the game” and the biggest stake in your institution’s success. •Members - museum members are self-selected supporters. They have made an investment in your institution and will want it to succeed. •Staff and Volunteers - museum staff are passionate about what they do, and have a financial and emotional stake in the game. They can be the most reliable teammates in your dugout. •Frequent Visitors / Program Participants - like your members, these are individuals who have chosen your museum and have a stake in its success. •BOARD - Your coaching staff and strategic high command. Board members can be particularly helpful because of connections they may have made with members of the opposing team (as contributors to campaigns, service together on other boards, travel in same social circles, etc.).

Fans These are people with whom your institution interacts on a regular basis – and who can be your biggest cheerleaders. •School Board / PTA / Teachers - Museums build strong relationships with the schools they serve and the teachers who count on museum programs.

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•Convention and Visitors Bureau - Museums and historic sites are major players in tourism, and tourism officials want to maintain a good mix of attractions to promote. •Chamber of Commerce - when a business is looking to expand or relocate, one of the key considerations in their decision is the area’s quality of life.

Colleagues in the Ballpark These are people who share your mission or have similar goals. •Other Institutions - museums share concerns and challenges and have a reason to work together. •State / Regional / National Organizations - museum service organizations can advise you and recruit grassroots support for your cause. •Affinity Groups - active segments of the museum world that are already organized and can assist in grassroots advocacy.

Know the Team’s Goal Once you know who your allies are, and why they are your allies, it’s time to identify your advocacy target. Who does your message need to reach in order to be effective? •Key Political Leaders - who are the movers and shakers in your community? •Key Legislative Leaders - the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, majority and minority leaders - the legislators who have clout. •Committee chairs and members - If you are advocating a budget issue, this would be the House and Senate Appropriations and Finance committees; if a regulatory issue, the chair and leading member of the committee which governs that topic. •Power bases - political action committees, key lobbyists, unions, and powerful interest groups. For museums, this might include the education and hospitality associations. •Staff - legislative staff, and the staff of elected officials, are the gatekeepers to their bosses and control more than access. They also prepare the briefing papers and position statements - they can be your best friend in the game! •Public - legislators and elected officials want to represent their constituents, so making sure that the public has a positive understanding of your issue. •Media - positive coverage in the press will influence the public, the staff and the elected officials. Again, each of these groups is an important recipient of your message for different reasons. The media can broadcast your message far and wide, and find you allies where you may not have known you had

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them. However, the legislators themselves need to hear your message loud and clear – and preferably from various sources - before issues pertinent to your museum are voted upon.

Throw the First Pitch, and Make Sure it Hits the Mark! Legislators today are pulled in every direction imaginable. And there are a great many ‘good causes’ that can get their attention. To rise above the din, you will need to provide proof that backs up any claims you make. Why should a legislator pay attention to your issue above someone else’s? Here are a few crucial parts of your ‘pitch’ to legislators: •Facts and Figures •Talking Points •Contact Lists with addresses, phone, email, FAX •Sample Letter Formats •Sample Advertisements, Op/Eds •Above all, provide INFORMATION about:  

What’s going on Time frames and deadlines

Game Plans and Batting Order Find out where the battles will be fought over your issue! The following are important places where your issues will come to light and be debated: LEGISLATIVE •Committee Hearings •Behind the Scenes •Floor Debate COMMUNITY •Public Opinion •Community Forums (“live” and online) •Voting Booths •Media (traditional and NEW media) Keep your message positive, your facts clear, and your goal in mind. Don’t waver from your game plan, and don’t fail to follow through after the ‘big’ advocacy event.

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Make Sure You Are On the Field When bills of interest to you are being proposed, debated, or voted upon, be sure you have coordinated with your allies to make sure you are “in the room” and part of the discussion. Visibility matters. And because there could be a variety of places and times when you need to be part of the discussion, be sure to plan so that your voice is heard: •Assign Duties: MAKE SURE YOU ARE COVERED! •Keep Morale Up – it is easy to get discouraged, particularly when you get the same “no” message over and over. But remember that as in baseball, a low batting average can still win the game! •Beware of Loose Cannons - supporters who mean well but may cause more harm than good by being too strident or going “off message” •Keep your message consistent - this is most important: inconsistency can strike you out faster than any fast ball. If your message is not concise and consistent, no one will remember it or give it credence. This is where having put the time into researching and compiling your data and talking points is important. Each member of your advocacy team should have the same message to deliver – a strong message that is backed up by proof. To find advocacy information for museums in Virginia, visit VAM’s website, click on Advocacy, and look for “Tips for Effective Advocacy.” We provide talking points, sample letters to legislators, facts about the importance of Virginia’s museums to education, tourism, and more!

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Setting Up an Advocacy Network