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Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum

Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum 2020 Goes Virtual!

Inviting local, state, and federal elected officials and their staff members into your museum is a powerful way to show them the unique work museums do – from world-class exhibitions to working with local students and community members on critical life skills. As the world adjusts to new realities and ways of doing business caused by COVID-19, federal, state, and local legislators are eager to connect with the constituents and communities they represent across all available platforms.

Since 2012, #InviteCongress has been a national fieldwide effort to encourage and empower museums of all types and sizes to invite their federal, state and local legislators and stakeholders in to the museum to see what museums are and do first-hand while legislators are typically home during the month of August and other recess periods. While many museums remain closed and others enter varying stages of re-opening – and it remains to be seen when elected officials will be able to fully resume in-person events and meetings with constituents – AAM encourages museums to take advantage of impactful virtual and telephone opportunities to connect with legislators. As Congress has yet to finalize any further economic relief and recovery legislation and the FY 2021 appropriations process, it is critical that museum advocates continue to make the case for federal, state and local support for museums to legislators.

There’s never been a more important time to engage with the elected officials and stakeholders that represent your museum. Our updated materials below – now including information on participating in and hosting virtual events and telephone meetings – make it easy for museums of all types and sizes to participate and connect with your elected officials this summer and throughout the year. Use the Alliance’s step-by-step “How To” Guide below to get started today, and don’t forget to use #InviteCongress on social media!

The Alliance will continue to update this guide if/as new information becomes available.

The Alliance How-To Guide

Step 1

  • Find out who represents you in Congress and your state legislature. Check their websites, recent news and events, press releases, and social media feeds to get a sense of how the office is currently operating and what kinds of live and virtual events they have been holding and participating in during this time.

Determine what type of interaction you want to request and schedule:

  • Who – Are you inviting legislators or staff to participate? Who will be present (museum board or leadership, museum staff, museum members, museum visitors)?

  • What – Is the invitation to participate in a virtual meeting? Take a virtual tour of the museum? Participate in a scheduled virtual program the museum is offering? A phone call between museum staff and legislators and/or staff? A conversation between the legislator and museum members or trustees? Whatever form the interaction takes – whether that be a Zoom or Teams meeting with legislators, staff, and museum representatives, or a phone call between you and the legislator or staff – the connection is valuable and makes a difference.

  • When – Identify a few different times that work for you to suggest to the office/legislator/staff.

  • Where – Is your museum re-opening and able to host a legislator or staff? Are you able to host an online meeting over Zoom, Teams or another similar platform? Is a phone call or conference call what works best for you and your museum?

Alliance Tip: Once you identify which offices you want to reach out to and have determined your capacity and available platforms, be prepared to be flexible and give the office(s) a chance to let you know which platforms they are currently using and have access to, so you can meet them where they are at.

Step 2

  • Use our template to send an invitation to your legislators’ offices. This is your initial outreach to the office to start the conversation and scheduling process.

Alliance Tip: Want to help your museum participate, but you’re not the Director?
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 your museum’s 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.

Step 3

  • Follow up with the office after sending your initial invitation. Remember that offices and staff are adjusting to new ways of working and communicating with each other. Be patient, be kind, be flexible. In your outreach, ask the staff how they are doing and show appreciation for their on-going work during these unusual times.

Find the name of the scheduler and call the office to follow up:

    • “I’ve recently sent an invitation for Rep./Sen. ________ to visit/meet with my museum [include information about the type of request/the platform suggested, if relevant]. Can I speak with your scheduler about this request?” [If you reached out to staff to request a meeting with them, tailor accordingly.]

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 or participate in a (virtual) meeting.

Alliance Tip: Especially at this time, be clear about what type of meeting you are requesting (in-person, virtual, phone call) and the meeting topic (i.e. COVID-19 funding for museums, participating in or an update on services and programs your museum continues to offer at this time, discussion with the legislator and museum trustees). If you have any contact information for issue or legislative staff from previous meetings or interactions with the office, include those contacts on your follow-up messages. Follow your legislators‘ websites, social media and newsletters so you know what other issues they are currently focused on and what other events they are currently hosting and participating in virtually, online, by phone or in-person.

Step 4

  • Continue following up over phone and email until a meeting or event is scheduled. If the legislator or staff is not available on the dates you originally suggested, offer alternate dates. Remind the office of the type of request you made and the topics you hope to discuss.

Step 5

  • Consider the message you want to convey and programs you want to emphasize, such as:
    • What makes your museum essential to your community before, during and after COVID-19?

    • How are your museum and staff directly impacted by the pandemic?

    • In what new and unexpected ways are you serving the community?

    • What under-served populations are you reaching and how?

    • Have you received any federal grants and how have they supported your museum?

  • Current Legislative Asks – Urge your members of Congress to:
    • Continue Emergency Funding Programs by enabling a second round of Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans and appropriating funds for federal grant programs to state and local governments that depend on nonprofits, including museums, to deliver services to the public.
    • Extend Loan Programs to Mid-Sized and Larger Nonprofits with more than 500 employees, that the CARES Act largely excluded.

    • Allocate $6 Billion Specifically for Museums, to be administered by the IMLS – Office of Museum Services, for general operating support, assisting museums in developing and sharing distance learning content, and pandemic recovery planning and implementation, including improvements to protect employees and visitors and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

    • Strengthen Charitable Giving Incentives by expanding the above-the-line charitable deduction in the CARES Act from $300 in 2020 to approximately $4,000/individual in 2020 and 2021, so the incentive is universally available to all Americans.

    • Provide Full Federal Unemployment Coverage for self-insured (reimbursing) nonprofits by increasing the federal unemployment insurance reimbursement from 50 percent to 100 percent of costs.

Alliance Tip: Visit our Advocacy and Policy Issues pages to get detailed talking points and background information on funding for museums, nonprofit tax policy, and other key issues affecting museums. See recent Alliance Advocacy Alerts for information, messages, and asks specific to COVID-19 and the pandemic’s impact on the museum field. You can also share the powerful information from AAM’s key research reports, Museums as Economic Engines and Museums & Public Opinion and download your state’s economic impact infographic to share with legislators and staff. Recently released AAM survey data also shows that one out of every three museums may shutter permanently without near-term assistance.

Step 6

  • Who can and will participate? Invite board members and trustees, museum staff, volunteers, and visitors who have been inspired by your museum to participate, if feasible and appropriate. Let anyone participating in the telephone, virtual, or in-person meeting know what to expect during the meeting or visit; which legislator or staff will be participating; and what topics will be covered. Plan for what role each person will have during the meeting or visit and make sure everyone participating has a chance to introduce themselves during the meeting or visit, if feasible and relevant to the event at hand.

Step 7

  • Share news about your scheduled meetings. Tell us how your outreach and plans are going; when your virtual, in-person meeting, or phone call will take place; and contact us with any questions you have. Depending on congressional developments, the Alliance may have critical messages for you to relay to your legislators.

Step 8

  • Make your case. Gather and prepare to share the information you indicated you would be covering in your invitation and communications with the office. Organize your key points about how the museum has been impacted by, and responded to, the pandemic into clear talking points. Include information about the field-wide impact of the pandemic on museums and your museum’s current status. Connect with your local Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) to see what information they are making available about COVID-19’s and museums’ impact in the community, and museum and cultural organizations role in tourism and re-opening. You can also complete an Economic Impact Statement and Educational Impact Statement so you can share them before, during, or after the meeting.

Step 9

  • Confirm details with the legislator’s office and any participating colleagues. If you are hosting a virtual event, have contingency plans in place in case internet or other technical difficulties occur.

Step 10

  • Alert the media. After the meeting or visit share photos, key points, or quotes over social media and with local press. Consider issuing a press release noting the event or meeting you hosted and the office’s participation. Elected officials appreciate media attention for events they participate in, so offer to coordinate with their office to maximize press, media, and social media coverage. Be sure to tag your legislators accurately on social media. Our Legislator Directory includes the Press Secretary for federal legislators and social media information for federal and state legislators!

Step 11

  • Have a plan to take photos or capture images (such as screenshots) during the virtual or in-person event. Assign someone to take notes during the meeting or visit to ensure proper follow up. Share images online and in your museum’s next newsletter. For telephone meetings, be sure to highlight the connection with the elected official’s offices over social media, on your website, in your newsletter, with your board and trustees, or over other appropriate and available platforms you are currently using.

Step 12

  • Do your research. Use our Getting to Know Your Legislators page to learn more about your elected officials and members of Congress (their interests, committees, and current priorities) through their official websites (www.house.gov or www.senate.gov), their social media, and online news coverage.

Key tips and advice for your meetings or visits!

Here are a few pieces of advice about working with members of Congress or other elected officials:

  • Be flexible, succinct, organized, and patient. Everyone is adapting to new norms and realities right now.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions or take notes during the meeting or 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. Don’t guess or make up information on the spot.

  • Make no assumptions about their knowledge of museums or the federal grant-making agencies. (Start with the basics, for example, that the museum is a 501(c)(3) organization with education as its primary public service mission.)

  • Do let legislators make their key points. Don’t be shy to make your case about the essential role of museums and express the critical needs of museums in this current environment.

  • Get more tips on how to run an effective meeting with members of Congress, getting to know your legislators, and communicating with legislators.

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.) Be sure to make your “asks.”

  • 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’s a sample timeline for a virtual meeting with a legislator or staff:

  • 9:50–10:00 a.m. – Get everyone logged-in, watch for any last-minute email or text messages from the legislator or staff participants, greet legislator and staff members, and let them know who else is on the line.

  • 10:00-10:10 a.m. – Introduce the legislator and staff, thank them for joining you today, note the other participants on the line, and turn the mic over to the legislator or staff for their remarks.

  • 10:10-10:30 a.m. – Legislator and/or staff remarks.

  • 10:30-10:40 a.m. – Proceed with any questions you had previously planned or follow-up on the spoken remarks. Be sure to make your “asks.”

  • 10:40-10:45 a.m. – Wrap-up, thank legislators, staff, and attendees for participating, note if additional information can be found on your website, and end the virtual meeting or call.

  • 10:45 a.m. – Debrief with colleagues to gather notes and photos, complete your Online Meeting Report form, plan any next steps and needed follow-up, including thank you notes to legislators and staff.

Alliance Tip: Streamline accordingly for a one-on-one phone call with legislative staff or conference call with legislators. In that scenario you may plan for a 30-minute time-frame and be prepared to include introductions, remarks from the legislator or staff, sharing your key points about the museum, questions, and wrap-up.

Here are some recommended follow-up actions:

  • Thank your members of Congress or other elected officials for attending, and their staff that also participated and helped schedule the event (email or handwritten note). If you made any “asks” during the meeting, be sure to reiterate them in your follow up 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 event on social media (FacebookTwitter).

  • Be sure to tag your legislators accurately and use #InviteCongress on social media!

  • Stay in touch – share updates with those who participated in the meeting or visit.

  • Follow your legislators on social media (Facebook, Twitter) if you don’t already.

  • Share any photos or images from the meeting or visit with the participating legislator’s office.

  • Prepare an update on the meeting or visit to share with your colleagues, members, board members, and followers on your museum’s blog, website, and newsletter.

Additional Information and Resources from the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF)

The Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) is a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan nonprofit whose mission is to build trust and effectiveness in Congress by enhancing the performance of the institution, legislators, and their staffs through research-based education and training, and by strengthening the bridge and understanding between Congress and the people it serves. During this time of COVID-19 CMF has been gathering and sharing information about how legislators and staff are managing during the pandemic and how best to engage with legislators and constituents. Learn more in these detailed guides and program:

Looking for additional information about museums’ and nonprofits’ ability to engage in advocacy and lobbying? Check out our updated Nonprofit Voter Resources page.

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