By Ethan R. Clark
Whether we aspire to be a curator, producer, or director, lobbying and advocating is a normal practice for all to share our knowledge and personal testimonies of the importance and value of the arts. I can’t tell you how to dodge motorcades or avoid mobs of protestors while in DC but I will share with you a few tricks of the trade from one Emerging Arts Leader to another. Take note of these 4 tips to focus your craft of arts lobbying on the hill.
4. Caution: Don’t Climb Alone!
Nonprofits (with 501c3 status) often limit their lobbying because lobbying limits aren’t clearly defined by the law. Get informed of the laws and common misconceptions of nonprofit lobbying but don’t stress; there’s a good chance you won’t have to climb The Hill alone and your interest group/professional association will guide your visit according to IRS rules.
You’re only as good as your networks and knowledge. Professional associations, partnerships, working groups, and coalitions all share resources to increase knowledge, define effective policy agendas, and present influential data representing a policy maker’s constituents. Not to say that your voice won’t be heard but joining forces maximizes a policy maker’s time and your influence.
An organization’s capacity is viewed as an investment for government research. Not only do regional and national networks assist local nonprofits to participate in federal conversations but they also are continually the go-to organizations when government seeks info.
3. For the Novice Navigator
Okay so the hill isn’t that steep but prepare for a climb. Arrive at your building’s location 1hr prior to your meeting. Consider transportation delays and walking distances from parking lots/metro stations. Arrive at your congressman’s office 30min prior to your meeting. Consider security checkpoints and the labyrinth of matching office doors. Download a map and find a common meeting place to survey the land with your fellow climbers.
After hours of planning, travel, and productive conversation with your congressman, debrief (as appropriate) at these favorite eateries and cafes recommended by staffers and friends on the hill: Sonoma, Bistro Bis, Johnny’s Half Shell, Pound the Hill, & Ebenezers Coffeehouse.
2. Reaching the Summit
Keep your cool and don’t let the impressive marble and memorials intimidate. Remember whom your voice represents and your goal of delivering a clear and concise message. Start your conversation (not lecture) with a pleasant greeting and state your intentions and positions but don’t beat around the bush.
Don’t derail on impassioned issues, follow talking points to progress conversation and maximize your time. Prepare various lengths of dialogue from elevator speech to deep discussion; be confident. Also, practiced discourse with people of varying knowledge on your issue helps prepare you to communicate your message with the best tactics.
Stop the rhetoric and jargon. Clearly define the true problem and recommend a course of action that policy makers should take according to your interests. Provide analogies or examples of people your policy maker values the most: his/her voters. Policy options or alternatives should be included in your agenda.
Info = power but with information overload in Washington, no lobbyist expects a staff to read more than a 1-2 page brief or memo. Share new research to increase opportunities to schedule an appointment but keep it simple.
1. Repelling 101
As DC Advocates for the Arts reminds us “Advocacy is an ongoing process. Legislators face so many competing causes that just one visit or one letter won’t make much of an impact.” Repel from your meeting on the hill but keep your rope tight and attached. Follow up with staffers on your meeting even if it’s cancelled. Staffers have a great influence on a policy maker’s decision and developing a relationship here is key to getting back in the door.
Did your meeting get bumped or shorten by a celebrity gallivanting around the hill? Don’t fret, hill staffers and especially Congressmen have extremely tight schedules and often work around the clock. If you had a successful conversation (or not), it is appropriate to follow up with a personal thank you note timed just right for an extra reminder before they vote.
I hope these tips ease your climb on Arts Advocacy Day! For further info…
Contact your state arts advocacy organization to learn more about how you can stay informed and engaged in the public policy process.
Visit websites of your favorite national associations to see how your local- and state-level issues relate to federal issues. It’s not uncommon for small and local organizations to participate in a larger network/coalition/legislative-working group to ensure their voice is represented on the hill.