Meet with Elected Officials Locally: A Step-by-Step Guide
The 116th Congress is underway and the stakes have never been higher. There are always new members of Congress to reach and there continue to be repeated calls to eliminate the important federal agencies that support museums. Make sure your legislators know the value of your museum. We’ve made it easy to get started with the step-by-step guide and linked tools and resources below.
Join the cause and be part of the national network of museum advocates.
- Option: Coordinate with/invite others in your community. Think about some of the museums or other non-profits you have partnered with in the past, in your city or town, or nearby. Let them know you are planning to request meetings or attend events, and invite them to join you.
- Tip: Any time there is a newly elected (or re-elected) official in your community, send them a congratulatory note with an introduction to your museum.
Send an invitation in to your legislators’ offices. Send a letter to your members of Congress requesting a meeting in the state or district.
- Option: Do you want to go to their local office, invite them to visit your museum or attend one of their public events? You may have to be flexible to accommodate their schedule, but it’s good to consider options. Ideally, they experience an educational program first-hand to see how your museum serves the community, but that can be the focus of a follow up meeting.
- Option: Do your board members have connections with your elected officials? A great way to get them involved is to have them follow up on the letter you send.
- Tip: Wondering if the legislator or their staff has time for you? Be assured that they will. It’s their job to know about the community they represent, so don’t be shy. Remember that meeting with staff can be just as important as meeting with the elected official because staff have a lot of influence.
- Tip: Not the director of your museum? Perhaps a formal invitation to Congress shouldn’t come from you, but instead from the director or another colleague. This is a great opportunity to “make your case” internally about why participation in this field-wide effort helps your museum build important relationships and demonstrates to Congress the essential work of museums.
Follow up with the office. We recommend calling the local district office and asking for the best point of contact and their email address. Send a follow up email to that person.
- Tip: Here’s some language you can use to follow up with the legislator’s staff: “I’ve recently sent a meeting request for Rep./Sen. _____ or a member of the staff to discuss issues important to the museum community. I’m happy to come to your local office, or I’d be honored to welcome you to the museum for this meeting.”
- Tip: If you are having trouble reaching the right staff person and/or setting up a meeting, continue following up, politely and respectfully, until you get a response.
Get the Talking Points. Visit the Alliance’s Policy Issues page to review the key issues we are taking to Capitol Hill, and download the Issue Brief PDFs.
- Tip: Create a “one pager.” Elected officials like to see information boiled down to one page. We’ve created a template you can use to prepare an Economic Impact Statement and an Educational Impact Statement to present to your elected officials.
- Visit our Advocacy and Policy Issues pages to get detailed talking points and background information on key issues affecting museums. 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.
- Tip: Tell your stories! Consider the other messages you want to convey and/or program(s) you want to emphasize. What makes your museum essential to your community? What underserved populations are you reaching? What “unexpected” community programs are you offering? Have you received any federal grants? How much of your budget is dependent on charitable giving?
- Tip: See what makes a meeting with legislators effective.
- Tip: Think about who else might help you represent your museum. Board member, volunteers and visitors can be effective advocates, serving as “3rd party validators” for our cause.
Confirm meeting details with legislator’s office a few days before the meeting and let them know exactly who will be attending.
Find out what makes them tick. Before you meet with elected officials, read their biography, Google them, and learn about their interests, committee assignments, and priorities. See our guide.
- Tip: Connect with your legislators on social media. This helps you learn about their current priorities and gets you on the office’s radar screen.
Alert the media (before or after the visit) with photos, a press release, social media, etc., depending on the type of event.
- Tip: Use the Alliance’s Museum Facts to identify shareable facts about museums.
- Tip: Assign a staff person to take photos and share these photos online or in your museum’s next newsletter.
Hold your meeting!
- Tips: Be flexible, succinct and don’t be afraid to ask questions. And if you don’t know the answer to a question, let them know you will find out the answer and get back to them.
- Tip: Make no assumptions about their knowledge of museums and/or federal grant-making agencies. Avoid using acronyms. Do share your story and key data about museums.
Follow up after the meeting. Thank them for their time, reiterate your message, send any materials promised, and share any photos you took during the visit.
- Tip: Stay in touch. You’ve now become a valuable resource for that elected official’s office. Continue to share information about your museum’s successes and challenges and consider how to engage them in future events.
- Tip: Let the Alliance know how the meeting went.
- Tip: Share the news. Let your supporters know about the meeting through your museum’s blog, website or newsletter. Then share copies of these with the elected official’s staff. No one appreciates good press more than a member of Congress, so this is a great way to build your relationship.
We hope you find this step-by-step guide helpful and that you’ll let us know how you used it. We encourage you to use these same strategies to develop relationships with state and local elected officials and other community leaders as well.