January 22, 2013

Advocacy Tips and Resources

Arts Advocacy Best Practice: Don't storm the castle.
Oklahomans for the Arts has a companion website to this blog. It features a number of resources to help you advocate for public funding for the arts and the Oklahoma Arts Council. Please click here and review our "desktop lobbyist." At the bottom of the page are several links to advocacy resources. 

During tough economic times, it's easy to fall into a defensive position regarding public funding for the arts, but now more than ever, it's imperative to step out of that defensive posture and prepare to ask your elected officials the tough questions. We're going to help you by providing these to you in the days and weeks to come. 

Keep in mind that an individual constituent -- that's an individual voter in a specific legislative district --  makes the most powerful advocate. Advocacy is a continuous process and long-term development. The work we do today to defeat HB 1895 can lay the groundwork for future success.

Here are some best practices and tips to help you talk to legislators and policy makers about arts funding.

Best Practices

Advocacy is an ongoing practice that requires a cohesive, collective and consistent approach.

Building strong relationships with key policymakers (i.e. elected and appointed officials) has
proven to be an effective practice in ensuring that issues are heard and addressed.

Be respectful and professional at all times. You never know when you might have the
opportunity to work together.

When you do have a request, have a clear message that is limited to one page or a two-minute presentation.

Do your homework: Understand both sides of the argument and be prepared to address
both sides. Be aware of other non-arts issues in your district. 

Don't storm the castle. If meeting in person, take no more than three people with you. 

Stay in touch. Keep elected officials and their staff advised about your progress and ongoing activities.

Advocacy vs. Lobbying

Advocacy is voicing support for an issue or cause, such as telling the public about the benefits of arts education. There are no limits to pure advocacy by nonprofits.

Lobbying (sometimes called “direct advocacy”) refers to advocacy efforts intended to influence legislation, such as writing to a legislator to oppose a bill that affects arts education.

Nonprofits may engage in a limited amount of lobbying (up to 20 percent of your annual organizational budget.)

Talking To Policy Makers

Share ownership of good ideas and avoid speaking or acting out of self-interest.

Speak the language: Use data and concrete details whenever possible. Stay focused on the specific issue.

It is our responsibility to keep decision-makers informed. Providing candidates or recently elected/appointed officials with information about arts issues is a good start to an informed relationship.

Reach out to legislators' executive assistants at the capitol. They are often more accessible than the elected official and be very helpful to the cause.

Be a squeaky wheel, not a gadfly. Maintain credibility. Elected officials quickly learn to tune out those who only show up to yell at them. 

Small conversations can be a vehicle for sharing ideas that can grow.

Click here to review OFTA's Advocacy Toolkit.