Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum
Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum
- 6 Reasons to Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum (2.5 min. video)
- How-To Guide
- Additional Information and Resources
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, federal, state, and local legislators are eager to connect with the constituents and communities they represent across all available platforms and venues.
Since 2012, the national, field-wide #InviteCongress effort has encouraged and empowered museums of all types and sizes to invite their federal, state, and local legislators and stakeholders into the museum for a firsthand look at the powerful work of museums and museum professionals. Elected officials are engaging in in-person and virtual events and meetings with constituents and AAM encourages museums to take advantage of impactful in-person, virtual, or telephone opportunities to connect with legislators. As Congress actively considers funding and other issues affecting museums, it is critical that museum advocates continue to make the case for federal, state, and local support for museums to legislators.
It is a critical time to engage with the elected officials and stakeholders that represent your museum. Our updated materials below – 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 as new information becomes available.
Also see our full AAM Guide to Working with a New Congress.
6 Reasons to Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum
The Alliance How-To Guide
- 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, what kinds of live and virtual events they have been holding and participating in, and to identify current priorities.
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 an in-person or virtual meeting? Take an in-person or virtual tour of the museum? Participate in a scheduled public or 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 in-person or 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 open and able to host a legislator or staff? Are you able to host an online meeting over Zoom, Teams or another similar platform if that is what works for the legislative office? 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 the format and available platforms, be prepared to be flexible and give the office(s) a chance to let you know what type of activities they are currently participating in and which platforms they are currently using and have access to, so you can meet them where they are at. Also keep an eye out for constituent conference calls, virtual town halls, and other in-person or virtual community events your legislators may be holding that you can participate in and provide valuable opportunities to make the case for museums.
- 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.
- Follow up with the office after sending your initial invitation. Remember that offices and staff are continuing to adjust to new ways of working and communicating with each other as circumstances continue to evolve. 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 and fluid 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. Don’t be shy to ask or confirm who is the right person in the office to speak to about making these arrangements.
Alliance Tip: Especially at this time, be clear about what type of meeting you are requesting (in-person, virtual, phone call, video call) and the meeting topic (i.e. the continuing impact of COVID-19 on your museum, participating in or an update on services and programs your museum is offering 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, such as Museums Advocacy Day or other meetings, 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.
- 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.
- Consider the message you want to convey and programs you want to emphasize, such as:
- <p”>What makes your museum essential to your community before, during and after COVID-19?
- How have 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?
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. AAM survey data (July 2020, November 2020, June 2021, and February 2022) also shows the dire and lasting impacts of the pandemic on museums, and the critical assistance still needed.
During this year’s #InviteCongress interactions, we encourage museums to emphasize these issues:
- We urge Congress to provide at least $54.5 million in fiscal year (FY) 2023 for the IMLS Office of Museum Services (last year’s House–passed and Senate draft approved level), a much needed increase of $7 million over FY 2022. Download the IMLS Office of Museum Services Funding Issue Brief (PDF)
- In unity with the broader nonprofit sector, we support the requests in this coalition letter and urge Congress to strengthen charitable giving incentives to ensure that all nonprofits, including museums, have the resources to serve their communities. (See details in AAM’s Tax Policy issue brief.)
For more information, see our Policy Issues at a Glance.
- 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 or event know what to expect during the meeting or visit; which legislator/s 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.
- Share news about your scheduled meetings. Tell us how your outreach and plans are going; when your virtual, in-person meeting, phone call or event 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.
- 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.
- Confirm details with the legislator’s office and any participating colleagues. Make sure your participants and materials are ready. If you are hosting a virtual event, have contingency plans in place in case internet or other technical difficulties occur.
- Alert the media. After the meeting or visit share photos, key points, or positive highlights 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!
- Have a plan to take photos or capture images (such as screenshots) during the virtual or in-person event. Get permission to take and share photos and images or to capture video of the visit or tour. Assign someone to take notes during the meeting or visit to ensure proper follow up. Share images and video online and in your museum’s next newsletter. For telephone meetings, be sure to highlight that you connected with the elected official’s office 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.
- 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 continuing to adapt and adjust to new norms and realities.
- 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 legislators’ or staff’s 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 and ask their questions. 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. Request permission to capture and share some images from the meeting.
- 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 or video call with legislators. In that scenario you may plan for a 30-minute time-frame total 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). Be sure to reiterate any asks and key data points made during the meeting in your follow up note.
- Send any materials promised during the visit.
- Encourage 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 (Facebook, Twitter).
- 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, social media, 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 the time of COVID-19 CMF has been gathering and sharing information about how legislators and staff are managing and how best to engage with legislators and constituents. Learn more in these detailed guides and program:
- Preparing for a Telephone Town Hall Meeting and Checklist for Hosting Events
- Engaging Constituents on COVID-19 from Home: The Benefits of Online Town Halls
- Managing Stress in Staff and Constituents During a Crisis
Looking for additional information about museums’ and nonprofits’ ability to engage in advocacy and lobbying? Check out our updated Nonprofit Voter Resources page.