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Who Makes the Best Advocate for the Future of Museum Funding?

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Good futures scanning should include all the STEEP categories. As I’ve confessed before, I sometimes have trouble with the P—political/policy trends. Today, Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied, the Alliance’s vice president of government relations and advocacy, helps out with a glimpse into the future of government policy & philanthropy, and a call to action on helping to shape that future.

First, a fact: Congress and President Obama are considering limiting the deductibility of charitable gifts, and there’s an advocacy effort afoot to demonstrate why this would harm charities of all types.

Now, a question: Who is the most compelling messenger to make this case to Capitol Hill and White House?

A) a nonprofit executive
B) a nonprofit donor
C) a person in the community being served by the nonprofit

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Certainly, all could effectively make the case, and all of them should. In an ideal world, all three would make the case as a group, because each brings a valuable perspective and message. But the most compelling case to be made? Let’s examine the case for each answer:

The nonprofit executive can talk about the organization’s community efforts and the ways it is serving the community. Likely the executive can also share a compelling reason why he or she came to work at that nonprofit (personal connection to the issue, etc.). But A is not the best answer.

The donor can also make a compelling case. After all, the donor has, literally, put his or her money where his or her mouth is. But in an age where charitable giving incentives are seen by some as just another tax loophole benefiting the wealthy, the donor may not be the most compelling advocate at this point. So it’s not B.

In my view, the person in the community who has been helped by the nonprofit can make the most compelling case on this issue. He or she can tell the story, on a personal level, about how the nonprofit played a transformative role in their lives. It’s hard to look into the eyes of a person who got job training, or escaped domestic violence, or was able to feed his or her family and not be moved by the power of the nonprofit that made it happen. Good for you if you chose C.

How does this translate to advocating for our field—who can tell the most compelling story about your museum?

A) a museum director
B) a museum donor
C) Someone in the community whose life was altered by visiting the museum.

Again, certainly one can make a compelling case for each of these options, and indeed we invite the entire museum field—directors, trustees, staff, graduate students and independent professionals—to join us in Washington, DC, for Museums Advocacy Day on February 24–25, 2014.

I think the best answer, for the reasons outlined above, is C—someone in the community whose life was altered by visiting a museum.

That’s why the American Alliance of Museums has launched a search for the Great American Museum Advocate. Through this campaign, we are looking for the member of your community who can tell the most compelling story about your museum.

We’ve already heard about life-changing moments—a child on the autism spectrum who spoke for the first time after visiting a museum, a teenage who was inspired to become a scientist after visiting a museum and a the story of a Desert Storm veteran who was battling terminal cancer and had a healing experience at the museum.

What’s the most life-changing story that one of your museum visitors can tell?  Email us to share your story. Entries are due by Nov. 1.

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