Advocacy for Volunteers

AN ADVOCACY GUIDE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM BEST DEFENSE

Lobbying is:

  • Presenting facts, opinions, concerns, and ideas. It is persuasion to your point of view.
  • Central to freedom of expression, and good public policy.
  • One of the central mechanisms of democracy. Speaking up for what you believe is about as American as you can get.

Who Should Lobby for Your Orchestra? Anyone who has a relationship to the orchestra: governing board members, professional staff, direct-service volunteers, musicians, and patrons. Your voice is worth more than 10 to 20 "special pleadings" by any Washington lobbyist. Constituent input is the KEY. To a member of Congress, the only thing more influential than "the average constituent" is someone who speaks for an organization that is honored in the community.

Methods for Effective Lobbying

1. Consult the League’s Government Affairs webpages. Review its materials, including a legal definition of nonprofit lobbying and the simple requirements for nonprofits need to follow to fulfill the law. Individuals may lobby as much as they want; there are no forms to file or expenses to report for individual citizens.

2. If you are using the orchestra's resources, simply track your lobbying expenses, if any. The orchestra will need to report such expenses on its annual tax form. If you use only your own resources, however, tracking is not necessary.

3. Assemble basic information on targeted legislators. Your targeted legislators should encompass the same area as your audience and financial support. Learn as much as you can: their committee assignments, recent arts voting records, fax numbers and e-mail addresses, district office locations, names of their Washington staff aides who handle arts issues, and other biographical information. Do they have a personal interest in the arts? Have they ever attended a concert? Do you have people in your organization who know them personally?

4. Monitor issues; respond to action alerts as appropriate.

5. Introduce the orchestra to the legislator; get acquainted. Contact candidates during campaigns for their views on arts issues. Communicate your orchestra's views to them. After each election: send a congratulatory letter, provide background information (including the season brochure, promotional poster, and calendar), put the legislator on your press list and get on her/his press list, request a meeting with the legislator at his office or at yours to discuss issues of concern.

6. Get your legislator to a concert. Many orchestras have them appear as part of the program, narrating such works as Copland's Lincoln Portrait.

7. Write letters to the editor or op-eds on major issues. Copy to the League and other arts supporters.

8. Build your base of trustees, staff, volunteers, musicians, patrons, vendors, and suppliers. They should ALL be part of your effort.

How to Communicate with Legislators

The personal meeting and the written word are the two most persuasive methods of lobbying. The more a communication seems to be the product of an individual, and less that of a mass mailing, the more likely the member of Congress is to see it and possibly make special note of it. Remember to personalize your communication by telling your orchestra’s story.

Ranked from most effective to least effective:

1. A handwritten one- or two-page letter, on personal or business stationery, faxed.

2. A typed one-page letter, on personal or business stationery, faxed.

3. A longer letter still has value, but is less likely to get read.

4. A one-page email, obviously written by a person, not a machine.

5. A letter sent the old-fashioned way via the post office. (Be aware that when contacting the U.S. Congress this gets there very slowly because of security, and is not a good option.)

6. A postcard, handwritten.

7. A pre-printed letter, signed by the sender(s)—value increases with volume.

8. A pre-printed postcard—same as pre-printed letter.

Tips For Writing a Letter to Legislators:

Your letter should always be concise and polite. State your issues up front. State your position in one or two paragraphs. Be clear about what you hope the legislator will do. If you personally know the legislator, make a reference to that. It will speed your letter to the legislator.

Two standard addresses will get your letter to any member of Congress:

      The Honorable_________
      U.S. House of Representatives
      Washington, DC 20515   

      The Honorable_________
      U.S. Senate
      Washington, DC 20510

  • Remember to copy the American Symphony Orchestra League on your correspondence; also monitor responses and copy to the League. Respond to legislators' response, if necessary. Thank supporters, express disappointment to opponents!
  • Most basic of all: you do not have to know every fact about the issue in order to send a letter. The intensity of your concern, your overall position, and the fact that you are watching what the legislator does—are important to elected officials.

SAMPLE LETTER

General Tips:

  • Most letters should not exceed one page.
  • Keep it simple—and cordial.
  • Follow up if you do not hear a response.

Dear Representative, Senator, Mayor, Superintendent, Assemblyman, etc.

First Paragraph:

  •   Introduce yourself and the orchestra you represent (or other organization).
  •   State your credentials.
  •   Describe the purpose of your letter. If possible, cite the issues or piece of legislation about which you are concerned.

Second Paragraph:

  • Background and key talking points supporting your position on this issue.

Third Paragraph:

  •  Desired action requested. (Please vote for/against bill...)

Fourth Paragraph:

  • Thank your elected official for considering your thoughts and thank him/her in advance for a response.
  • Invite your elected official to attend a symphony event in his/her official capacity. (Always request approval from symphony management before extending an invitation.)

Meeting with Your Legislator:

Schedule a meeting with your legislator in her/his home district or in Washington, D.C. Be on time. Have a pre-meeting with your group to designate a leader and plan your presentation. Remember to listen to what your legislator has to say. After the meeting, send a thank-you. Report the meeting to the League.

Coalition Building Lobbying is often most effective when working in coalition. Identify institutions that would be your logical partners, e.g. major arts institutions such as art museums, theaters, dance companies, orchestras, and opera companies. Partners in a coalition do not have to agree on all issues at all times.

Be Positive If your legislator is opposed to your position, DO NOT give up. Contact her/him anyway. Let her/him know that you are disappointed and while he may oppose you on this issue, perhaps you can work together in the future. If your position is supported, ask your legislator to be an advocate to his/her colleagues, and say THANK YOU.

Refer to Best Defense: A Guide for Orchestra Advocates for a more detailed explanation (including laws that govern lobbying).

LOBBYING IS FOR EVERYONE WHO HAS A POINT OF VIEW TO ADVOCATE.

WHY AND HOW TO ORGANIZE A GOVERNMENT ISSUES COMMITTEE

The League encourages orchestras to identify an individual on both their governing board and in their volunteer association to hold primary responsibility for legislative issues. Many orchestras have found that establishing a government issues committee maximizes advocacy efforts.

STEPS TO ORGANIZE A COMMITTEE:

1. Establish a government issues position on your orchestra's governing board and your volunteer association board.

2. Connect with all possible sources of information, advise them of the contact information for your government issues chairs, and ask to be added to mailing, fax, and email lists. Examples of such sources include your state arts agency, your state arts advocacy league, city councils, and local non-profit arts advocacy groups. Also, be sure to notify the American Symphony Orchestra League of your current government issues contact information.

3. Utilize League resources, including Symphony Magazine , the League’s Advocacy and Government webpages, and the updated  publication Best Defense: A Guide for Orchestra Advocates.

4. Build your committee. Identify at least one representative from each section of the orchestra family: the staff, the governing board, the musicians, and the volunteer association. These people will serve as your network when it is time to respond to a legislative alert. Consequently, the more the better.

5. Draft a mission statement for the government issues committee. The statement should clearly articulate the committee's primary responsibilities and membership structure.

6. Prepare a personalized legislative information sheet for each person in the orchestra family listing their personal U.S. senators and representatives, and state officials, including the governor. List phone numbers, addresses, and email information. This information should be posted in a convenient location for instant access when needed.

7. Keep both boards, musicians, and staff informed on issues currently affecting arts organizations through reports at meetings, newsletters, and any other forms of communication that the orchestra uses.

8. Participate in state and national arts advocacy days.

9. Establish a relationship with your various elected officials before there is a crisis by writing to them, visiting them, putting them on your various mailing lists, and inviting them to your events.