Advocacy 101 for Individuals
You have the right (and the responsibility) to participate in the legislative process. MCA is dedicated to empowering arts supporters throughout Minnesota to become advocates for arts-friendly policy. Below are legal regulations for individual citizen lobbyists, tips on how to contact your legislators by email, letter or fax, phone, and in person, and an individual advocacy calendar.
Your elected officials are your voice in government: let them know what you think!
Unsure of who your elected officials are?
Find out who represents you
and read their positions on the arts in Minnesota.
Have additional questions?
Contact MCA at (651) 251-0868. We are here to help!
Legal Regulations for Citizen Lobbyists:
As an individual American citizen, you can:
Give money to candidates and receive a refund of up to $50 as an individual (or $100 as part of a married couple) from the State of Minnesota, host an arts fundraiser or candidate event at your house – and invite all of your friends, and volunteer for a political candidate’s campaign.
As an individual American citizen, you cannot:
Participate in campaign activities as an employee of your arts organization.
Contact Your Legislators by Email
Through MCA’s Desktop Lobbyist online tool, arts advocates can learn about current issues affecting the arts in Minnesota, learn who their legislators are, and send emails in a matter of moments.
When e-mailing a legislator, make sure to include a note in the subject line indicating that you are a constituent, such as “Message from an Arts Supporter in District XX.” Legislators want to hear from their own constituents, but often don’t have the time to consider the opinions of people who live outside their district. (That’s why you should not send a blanket e-mail to every legislator at the Capitol.) Within the body of the e-mail, make sure to sign the message with your full name and home address. If you are writing about a specific issue and want a response from your legislator, make sure to ask them to write back. “I’m looking forward to your response on this important issue,” for example. (If you don’t need a response, legislators appreciate being told that too.)
Contacting Your Legislators By Letter or Fax
Writing is one of the most effective means of getting your message across to your legislator. Your letter documents your views and it also reminds your legislators that their decisions have a direct impact on you. Write to the legislators who serve on the committees that help shape legislation affecting the arts. If you only have a few minutes, at least write to your own legislators. MCA can tell you who they are, or you can find your legislators online. View sample letters to legislators here.
Sometimes an issue will need more immediate attention. Most legislators also have fax numbers that are available to the public. Check out our Arts Alerts to see if any prompt action is required right now.
- Use the correct address and salutation, e.g. Dear Senator [last name], or Dear Representative [last name], or Dear Governor [last name]
- Type or write your letter clearly. If your letter is not easy to read, it could be discarded. Be sure to include your return address on the letter. Non-constituent mail may also be thrown out.
- Use your own words and stationery. Legislators feel that personal letters, rather than form letters, show greater personal commitment on the part of the writer, and therefore carry greater weight.
- Be brief. Choose a few bullet points that are direct and succinct; however, include enough information to explain why you are writing.
- Be specific and keep your message focused. Avoid writing a “laundry list” of issues so that your most important message stands out. If possible, give an example of how the issue affects your district.
- Know your facts. It is important to be accurate and honest in your letter. You can seriously hurt your credibility by offering inaccurate or misleading information.
- If you can, find our how your legislators voted on this issue or similar issues in the past. Personalizing your letter to reflect the viewpoint of your legislator can be very effective. If the legislator has voted in favor of your issue in the past, express your thanks. MCA can help you track down this information.
- Be timely. Contact your legislator while there is still time for him/her to consider and act on your request. Respond quickly to MCA’s Arts Alerts.
- Be persistent. Do not be satisfied with responding letters that give a status report on the bill, promise to “keep your views in mind” or otherwise skirt the issue. Without being rude, write back and ask for a more specific response.
- Say thank you. Like everyone else, legislators appreciate a pat on the back. If, however, your legislator did not support your position, let him/her know that you are aware of that, and explain why you think he/she should have decided differently. It might make a difference the next time.
- IMPORTANT: DO NOT use a negative, condescending, threatening or intimidating tone. You will only alienate your legislator and cause bad feelings that might hurt your case. Only write in tones that you would care to receive in the mail! Be nice.
Contacting Your Legislators by Phone
When calling your legislator, DO:
- Ask to speak with the aide handling your issue. The aides have the legislator’s ear, and are often very knowledgeable about the details of your issue. Be sure to take down the name of the aide with whom you spoke so that you will have a contact person in case you need to reach your legislator again. You will also have the name of another person to thank.
- Be prepared and be brief. It is a good idea to have notes or other information in front of you to help you be brief and concise. Don’t keep the aide/legislator on the phone for more than five minutes unless they prolong the conversation – there is a lot going on in a legislator’s office and they will have many other people vying for their time. Use your time wisely and get your main points covered as close to the beginning of the conversation as possible.
- Leave your name, address and telephone number (as well as e-mail and fax if you have them). This will enable the aide to get back to you with information on the legislator’s position. Let him/her know that you want a reply.
- Follow up your phone call with a brief note of thanks for the conversation, a concise summary of your position and additional information if it has been requested.
When calling your legislator, DON’T:
- Bluff. If the legislator or aide asks you a question that you cannot answer, say that you will get back to him/her and then do the appropriate follow-up.
Contacting Your Legislators in Person
Ten Short Tips on Lobbying for the Arts in Person
1. KISS: Keep it short and simple.
The meeting should be brief and concise. Know why you are there, why they should care, and what you want. If you are with a group of people, you may even want to designate one spokesperson. Go to the meeting with a short list of bullet points that you want to communicate. If you come to Advocacy Day, we will give you simple information to convey that day.
2. Have your facts straight.Spend a few minutes reading through materials and thinking about your issue so you have familiarized yourself with it before you meet your legislators. Talk about how the legislator’s constituents are benefiting from the thing you want. If the legislator asks you something that you don’t know, don’t guess – find out the information and send it later. Learn your legislator’s position on arts issues with MCA’s Legislator Survey.
3. Be on time, polite and patient.
There is no quicker way to lose support for your issue than by being rude to legislators. BE NICE. Your legislator may have two committee meetings going on while they are supposed to be meeting with you and may be late. Don’t be offended – just be glad you have gotten some of their time and make the most of it. Don’t show up unannounced or assail those individuals or organizations who oppose your issue. Criticizing your legislator or your opponents can only hinder your efforts.
4. Introduce your team members and note what connection each person may have to the legislator’s district.
Make sure that the legislator knows your connection to his or her district – whether you are a constituent living in the district, an artist working in the district, etc.
5. Make your issue personal.
How have these grants benefited children in your area? Senior citizens? Brought the community together? Tell stories about how your organization or other grantees have benefited the people in the legislator’s district.
6. Be a resource.
If your legislator needs more information than you have on hand, you can offer to obtain it. Let MCA know if you need help, and be sure to follow up with information in a timely manner.
7. Before you leave, say “thank you” again.
Leave some information for the legislator to read, but keep that information simple, too. Be direct by asking at the end of the meeting, “Will you support my cause?” His or her answer will determine your future efforts.
8. Make notes about what happened in your meeting and bring your report back to MCA.
It is important for you to share what you learn with MCA. Take a few minutes to write down your impressions and any specific statements of support or opposition that the legislator made. Did they give you any advice or display knowledge of any specific arts organizations or issues?
9. Maintain your relationship with your legislators.
When you get home, promptly send a note thanking them for their time and giving other information about your organization that may be of interest to them. Invite them to local arts events, openings or other activities that they or their families may enjoy.
10. Provide opportunities for positive publicity (photo opportunities, events, occasions to meet people)
Invite your legislator to your organization’s annual meeting, an opening night gathering, a community parade or event, any and all publicity events, shows, previews, openings, exhibits or displays, Chamber of Commerce or Service Club meetings.
Calendar for Individual Advocacy
There is always a way to advocate on behalf of the arts, no matter what the season.
In fact, communication with elected officials is most effective when it is ongoing, rather than simply during a crisis. Take the time to get to know the people who represent you, and tell them who you are and why you care about the arts. You do not need to know about specific legislation to talk about why the government should support the arts. You just need to let your elected officials know that you think the government has an important role to play concerning arts funding.
Here are some year-round arts advocacy initiatives for individuals, starting this month:
- August 2012: Contact your legislators. Invite them to a local arts festival or event.
- September 2012: Host a get-together in your home. Invite arts-supportive neighbors and your legislators to come and discuss the importance of local arts organizations and programming.
- October 2012: Join MCA as a member and sign up to receive our Arts Alert Emails.
- November 2012: Attend MCA’s Annual Meeting. Collect your legislators’ names and contact information so that you are ready to take action during the upcoming session.
- December 2012: Add your legislators to your holiday card list.
- January 2013: Volunteer to help MCA prepare for the upcoming session and Arts Advocacy Day event.
- February 2013: The legislative session begins. Read MCA’s Arts Alert emails and respond to calls-to-action. Recruit friends and family to attend Arts Advocacy Day. Attend Arts Advocacy Day!
- March 2013: Help MCA generate calls and letters to legislators in support of the arts.
- April 2013: Attend arts hearings at the Capitol – don’t forget to wear your red “Arts Advocate” pin!
- May 2013: Keep up-to-date on legislative happenings, and keep your friends updated too!
- June 2013: Send thank you letters to the Governor and your legislators.
- July 2013: Ask the candidates in your district if they support the arts. If they do, volunteer for their campaign. If they don’t, reeducate them on the importance of the arts to your district.