Whenever we begin to approach the end of a Texas Legislative Session (although we are still far from the actual finish line!) I always reflect on just how much work goes into advocacy.
The constant stream of phone calls, emails and meetings never seem to end. What I have noticed though is that there is a pattern of best practices that has emerged whenever I approach any of these situations with an elected official or their office.
This is not prescriptive - we are always going to hone our tactics, tools, and messaging as we improve as advocates and address specific issues; but here are some basic tips that can ensure that when you head into these meetings (whether in person, on the phone or in a virtual setting) you look confident, polished, and are ready to serve as a trustworthy source of information for the elected officials you are meeting with and perhaps trying to sway to act.
- Know your officials. Get to know your local public officials BEFORE you need their help. Know what they care about. Know why they serve.
- Do your homework. Understanding who you are talking to educate yourself. Know your background information on the specific issue and how best to frame the message, specifically for the official you meet with that day.
- Contact public officials personally if possible. A meeting is better than a phone call, a phone call is better than an e-mail, and an e-mail is better than no contact.
- Clear, Concise Message. Share the most important two or three facts and the few best arguments to make your case. Don’t try to do too much or say too much - you may find yourself in the weeds and miss your chance to educate the official.
- Make it personal. Explain how the issue impacts you and your institution…and their constituents! Ideally, YOU are a constituent. If not, always try to bring one with you to any meeting with an elected official. They always respond better to people who can and will vote for or against them.
- Make a clear request. Ask them specifically to SUPPORT the legislation, or OPPOSE the legislation, or help to change the legislation. Know what you want them to do and simply and clearly ask them to do it.
- Be polite, but direct. Try to get a commitment to support the position you are asking them to take on behalf of the arts.
- Get Together. Connect with others and encourage them to also contact their public officials. Form a coalition of like-minded organizations and individuals to support your position.
- Use the media. Draw broader attention to arts issues by using social media, letters to the editor, tv appearances, blogs, any communication channel that will grab attention and draw others in to support your position.
- Always. Always. Always. Thank elected officials. Especially if you win on your issue, bill, or “ask”. At the very least always follow up with a note thanking them for taking the time to talk with you about an issue that is so important to you.
Obviously, this list can and will grow the longer you practice advocacy. I hope this is helpful to many of our newer advocates out there. This is just a place to start. Everyone can be an arts advocate - join us out there to ensure the arts remain vital pillars of our Texas communities