It is important to keep those responsible for arts appropriations informed about the impact of arts funding in their districts. Remember, YOU have a voice and a vote. YOU can influence the decisions of your elected officials! Thank them for what they have done, and help them learn more about the benefits of supporting the arts.
When writing, calling, or meeting with your legislator…
Use the Proper Format
Address mail to The Honorable (full name). In the greeting, address the official by his or her title and last name, i.e. “Dear Senator Smith.”
Be Specific and Brief
At the beginning of your letter or phone call, identify the specific issue or bill number to which you are referring. Briefly state your position and keep your correspondence extremely brief. When meeting with your legislator, a ten to fifteen minute meeting is suggested.
When calling or visiting your legislator, be prepared to answer specific questions. If meeting with the elected official, bring or provide written information to support your position. A one page document listing specific points is advisable. Make appointments to meet with your legislator and always be on time. Legislators have extremely busy schedules while they are in session, so make your appointment well in advance.
An emotional appeal is not enough. Back your arguments with facts and substance. Show how proposed legislation would affect the arts, your community, and your organization.
Be Positive and Cordial
Your tone should be cooperative and professional. Do not threaten the legislator by stating that not supporting your position will result in a lost vote. Ask your legislator to state his/her position in a written reply. Make sure to include a return address in your letter.
After a meeting or phone call, follow up with a thank you letter that restates the points covered during the meeting. Send along any additional information and materials requested. The communication between you and the elected official (and his/her staff) needs to be friendly and ongoing.
Don’t forget to thank your legislator when he/she votes in support of your position. Legislators appreciate this recognition.
Other Tips to Foster Communication with Your Elected Officials
- Know your legislators. Find out about their interests. Learn about their committee assignments.
- Send a poster of any arts event, past or present, to your elected official.
- Send elected officials your calendar of events.
- Put elected officials on your mailing list. Invite them to opening receptions and performances by sending a personalized letter.
- Invite elected officials to MC a program or present awards. Put them on stage. Recognize them as a special guest at a performance or exhibit.
- Engage your board and audience. Ask your programs participants and audience members to send messages to your elected officials. Audience members should send letters on their personal stationery. Board members who represent corporations should send letters on their business stationery. Keep the message simple and use a positive tone.
- Use informal opportunities to introduce yourself to legislators.
Overall, remember to…
Get to the Point
- Be articulate, informative, and brief.
- Use factual and anecdotal information.
- Wherever possible, put a human spin on the message. Talk about specific programs and include anecdotal stories about how programs and public dollars affect real human beings. All of us lend a more sympathetic ear to examples of real people.
Arts Wisconsin Arts Activist Handbook
How to Testify at a Public Hearing
Building Public Value for the Arts in Arizona