Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum
Inviting local, state and federal elected officials and their staff members into your museum is a uniquely powerful way to show them what museums are and what museums do – from world-class exhibitions to working with local students and community members on critical life skills. There’s never been a more important time to engage with the elected officials and stakeholders that represent your museum.
The August Congressional Recess is a great time to get started, but any time of year is a good time to invite your legislators into the museum. We make it easy to participate with this step-by-step “How To” guide that can be used to connect with your elected officials throughout the year. Use the Alliance “How To” Guide below to get started today, and don’t forget to use #InviteCongress on social media!
The Alliance “How To” Guide
- Find out who represents you in Congress and your state legislature.
Alliance Tip: Not the Director of your museum, but still want to get your museum involved?
Perhaps a formal invitation to Congress or your legislators shouldn’t come from you, but instead from the Director or another colleague. This is a great opportunity to talk with the Director about why you think advocacy is important, and why you think participation in this field-wide effort will help your museum build important relationships and demonstrate to Congress the essential work of museums. Think of it as an exercise in “making the case”— and about how you can convey in a persuasive way why your museum shouldn’t miss this opportunity.
- Follow Up with the office after sending the invitation.
Find the name of the scheduler and call the office to follow up:
- “I’ve recently sent an invitation for Rep./Sen. ________ to visit my museum. Can I speak with your scheduler about this request?”
You can find Congressional offices’ local contact information, or visit the legislature’s or office’s website for local contact information. We recommend starting with the local office, but be aware that every legislator has their own scheduling process, so you may need to flexible. Be specific about why you are calling and what you are asking the legislator or staff to do–namely, visit the museum.
- Continue following up over phone and email until a meeting is scheduled. If the member of Congress or elected official is not available the dates you originally suggested, offer alternate dates.
- Consider the message you want to convey and programs you want to emphasize, such as:
- What makes your museum essential to your community?
- How much of your budget is dependent on charitable giving?
- What “unexpected” community programs are you offering?
- What under-served populations are you reaching and how?
- Have you received any federal grants and what projects have they supported at your museum?
To maximize our impact, the Alliance encourages museum advocates to include these three key messages during their “Invite Congress” visits:
- We urge Congress to provide at least $38.6 million in Fiscal Year 2019 funding for the IMLS Office of Museum Services.
- We urge Congress to enact S. 2271, the Museum and Library Services Act of 2017, which would reauthorize the Institute of Museum and Library Services. (Please ask your U.S. Senators to cosponsor S. 2271.)
- Along with the broader charitable community, we urge Congress to enact a universal charitable deduction so that all Americans can deduct their donations to charity, regardless of whether or not they itemize their taxes. Toward this end, we urge members of Congress to cosponsor legislation to allow all taxpayers to deduct their charitable contributions, such as the Universal Charitable Giving Act (H.R. 3988, S. 2123) and the Charitable Giving Tax Deduction Act (H.R. 5771).
Visit our Advocacy and Policy Issues pages to get detailed talking points and background information on these and other key issues affecting museums. You can also share the powerful information from AAM’s recent research reports, Museums as Economic Engines and Museums & Public Opinion.
- Invite board members, volunteers and visitors who have been inspired by your museum to participate. Let them know what to expect during the visit.
- Make your case. Complete an Economic Impact Statement and Educational Impact Statement so you can share them during the meeting.
- Confirm details with the legislator’s office and your colleagues, and be sure to invite local Congressional staff to join the member of Congress on his/her visit.
- Alert the media (before or after the visit) with photos, a press release, social media, etc. Members of Congress love media attention, so offer to coordinate with their office to maximize press coverage.
- Assign a museum staff person to take photos and notes during the visit to ensure proper follow up. Share the photos online and in your museum’s next newsletter.
- Learn more about your members of Congress (their interests, committees, and priorities) through their official websites (www.house.gov or www.senate.gov), the internet and their social media.
Now you are ready for the visit!
Here are a few pieces of advice about working with members of Congress or other elected officials:
- Be flexible, succinct and organized.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions or take notes during the visit, and be a good listener, too!
- It’s okay not to know the answer to a specific question. Find out the answer and then follow up with the office.
- Make no assumptions about their knowledge of museums or the federal grant-making agencies.
- Get more tips on how to run an effective meeting with members of Congress.
Here’s a sample timeline for a site visit with a legislator:
- 10:00–10:15 a.m. – Greet legislator and staff members at entrance/front desk.
- 10:15-10:45 a.m. – Give the legislator and staff a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum or your collections, a tour of your newest or most innovative exhibit, or stop by a program that is taking place at the museum with students or other community members.
- 10:45-11:15 a.m. – Meeting with legislator, staff, and other visit participants. (Share your Economic and Educational Impact Statements.)
- 11:15-11:30 a.m. – Wrap-up, final questions and comments from the legislator, final photos, and farewell to the legislator and staff.
- 11:30 a.m. – Debrief with colleagues to gather notes and photos, complete your online meeting report form, plan any next steps and needed follow-up.
Here are some recommended follow up actions:
- Thank your members of Congress or other elected officials for attending, and their staff that also visited or helped schedule the event (email or handwritten note).
- Send any materials promised during the visit.
- Urge your board members to send thank you notes.
- Report back to AAM on how the meeting went with our Online Meeting Report.
- Post photos and positive comments from the visits on social media (Facebook, Twitter).
- Be sure to tag your legislators accurately and use #InviteCongress on social media!
- Stay in touch–share updates on the museum’s ongoing work.
- Follow legislators on social media (Facebook, Twitter).
- Share any photos you took during the visit with the legislator’s office.
- Prepare an update on the visit to share with your colleagues and on your museum’s blog, website or newsletter.
Looking for detailed information confirming that museums and nonprofits are allowed to engage in advocacy and lobbying? Check out our updated Nonprofit Voter Resources page.