Meeting with Elected Officials Locally: A How-To Guide

The 115th Congress is getting to work and the stakes have never been higher. Changing the tax deductibility of charitable gifts is just one issue that Congress is considering; there are also calls to eliminate important federal agencies that support museums. Join the cause and be part of the national network of museum advocates.

We’ve made it easy to get involved with the step-by-step guide and linked tools and resources below.

Step 1

Find out who represents you in Congress and in your state legislature (simply enter your zip code) and find contact information (including social media) for your federal and state elected officials.
  • Option: Coordinate with/invite others in your community. Think about some of the museums or other non-profits you have partnered with in the past, in your city or town, or nearby. Let them know you are planning to request meetings or attend events, and invite them to join you.
  • Tip: Any time there is a newly elected (or re-elected) official in your community, send them a congratulatory note with an introduction to your museum.

Step 2

Send an invitation in to your legislators’ offices. Send a letter to your members of Congress requesting a meeting in the state or district.

  • Option: Do you want to go to their local office, invite them to visit your museum or attend one of their public events? You may have to be flexible to accommodate their schedule, but it’s good to consider options. Ideally, they experience an educational program first-hand to see how your museum serves the community, but that can be the focus of a follow up meeting.
  • Option: Do your board members have connections with your elected officials? A great way to get them involved is to have them follow up on the letter you send.
  • Tip: Wondering if the legislator or their staff has time for you? Be assured that they will. It’s their job to know about the community they represent, so don’t be shy. Remember that meeting with staff can be just as important as meeting with the elected official because staff have a lot of influence.
  • Tip: Not the director of your museum? Perhaps a formal invitation to Congress shouldn’t come from you, but instead from the director or another colleague. This is a great opportunity to “make your case” internally about why participation in this field-wide effort helps your museum build important relationships and demonstrates to Congress the essential work of museums.

Step 3

Follow up with the office. We recommend calling the local office and asking for the best point of contact and their email address. Send a follow up email to them.

  • Tip: Here’s some language you can use to follow up with the legislator’s staff:  “I’ve recently sent a meeting request for Rep/.Sen. _____ or a member of the staff to discuss issues important to the museum community. I’m happy to come to your local office, or I’d be honored to welcome you to the museum for this meeting.”
  • Tip: If you are having trouble reaching the right staff person and/or setting up a meeting, continue following up, politely and respectfully, until you get a response.

Step 4

Get the Talking Points. Congress will be considering changes to the tax deductibility of charitable gifts, reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act which has significant impacts on museums and funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services and other important federal grant programs. Visit the Alliance’s Issue page to review the key issues we are taking to Capitol Hill, and download the Issue Brief PDFs.

  • Tip: Create a “one pager.” Elected officials like to see information boiled down to one page. We’ve created a template you can use to prepare an Economic Impact Statement and an Educational Impact Statement to present to your elected officials. See some great Economic Impact statements created by individual museums, a community of museums or state or regional museum associations. 
  • Tip: Tell your stories! Consider the other messages you want to convey and/or program(s) you want to emphasize. What makes your museum essential to your community? What underserved populations are you reaching? What “unexpected” community programs are you offering? Have you received any federal grants? How much of your budget is dependent on charitable giving?

Step 5

Tell the Alliance when the meeting/activity will take place. Or contact us with any questions you have.

  • Tip: Think about who else might help you represent your museum. Board member, volunteers and visitors can be effective advocates, serving as “3rd party validators” for our cause.

Step 6

Confirm meeting details with legislator’s office a few days before the meeting and let them know exactly who will be attending.

Step 7

Find out what makes them tick. Before you meet with elected officials, read their biography, Google them and learn about their interests, committee assignments, and priorities.

  • Tip: Connect with your legislators on social media. This helps you learn about their current work and gets you on the office’s radar screen.

Step 8

Alert the media (before or after the visit) with photos, a press release, social media, etc., depending on the type of event.

  • Tip: Assign a staff person to take photos and share these photos online or in your museum’s next newsletter.

Step 9

Hold your meeting!

  • Tips: Be flexible, succinct and don’t be afraid to ask questions. And if you don’t know the answer to a question, let them know you will find out the answer and get back to them.
  • Tip: Make no assumptions about their knowledge of museums and/or federal grant-making agencies. Using acronyms is not a good idea.

Step 10

Follow up after the meeting. Thank them for their time, reiterate your message, send any materials promised and share any photos you took during the visit.

  • Tip: Stay in touch. You’ve now become a valuable resource for that elected official’s office. Continue to share information about your museum’s successes and challenges and consider how to engage them in future events.
  • Tip: Let the Alliance know how the meeting went.  
  • Tip: Share the news. Let your supporters know about the meeting through your museum’s blog, website or newsletter. Then share copies of these with the elected official’s staff. No one appreciates good press more than a member of Congress, so this is a great way to build your relationship.

We hope you find this step-by-step guide helpful, and that you’ll let us know how you used it. We encourage you to use these same strategies to develop relationships with state and local elected officials and other community leaders as well.