Museum Advocacy: How to Write a Letter to Congressional Representatives

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

May 13, 2020

Have you written your representatives? If you haven’t, I urge you to consider it as a part of your job as a museum professional. Regardless of whether you’re a federal institution, your museum is impacted by decisions that are made at a federal level.

Items such as charitable giving tax deductions, federal money available for federal and state grants, and (as we’re finding now) emergency relief funding available for museums and recently displaced museum professionals are predicated on congressional and/or presidential/prime minister approval. This post recommends what elements to include in your letter and provides guidance on what content to include in each section.

State Who You Are, Where You Work, and Why it Matters

The most helpful and persuasive letters are ones that include the personal angle. Introduce yourself, where you work, and what your job is. If possible, tie your work to how it benefits the community—representatives will want to know if your work benefits the community and how.

State the Problem

After a brief introduction you need to immediately jump into what the problem is. Describe it in simple terms. Describe what’s happened or hasn’t happened in your museum as a result of the problem in order to illustrate the problem’s impact. Whenever possible, give statistics at the national, regional, and local levels. If this is a bigger-than-your-museum problem, then there are likely statistics available for you to use from your regional and national organizations, such as American Alliance of Museums (AAM). Consider gathering statistics on how much money is being lost per day, how many of your coworkers were laid off, how many collection items are being damaged, how many visitors (community members) aren’t being served, etc.

Spell Out the Human Impact

As compelling as numbers are (and they are quite compelling) make sure you don’t forget the human element. Gather short, human-centric stories to help you illustrate the human impact of the problem to mirror what’s being demonstrated by the numbers in the statistics.

Layout Your Request

In the simplest and clearest terms possible, state what it is you’re requesting your congressional representative to do. Is it to vote for a bill already in motion? Is it to create or champion a new bill? Is it to intercede on your behalf with a congressional committee working on items that will impact you? If this is a national problem or cause tie it to a relevant official statement one of the national groups (such as AAM) has published.

Describe What Will Happen if Your Request Isn’t Fulfilled

To finish strong, paint a picture for your representative to help explain what will happen if your request isn’t supported. How will things get worse?

Delivery Mechanism

You can contact your representative in four ways: in-person, phone, email, or letter. In-person meetings are rare and are usually arranged far in advance or you are there in person as part of an Advocacy Day. Phone is effective if you need to contact your representative quickly to ask them to vote “yes” or “no” on a particular issue scheduled to be voted on in the near future. An email or letter is the best choice if you’re laying out a request that requires a lot of background information. Letters can include a logo and hyperlinks (that are spelled out). Email cannot include hyperlinks or images, so it’s best to stick with plain text. 

How to Find Your Representatives

You can find your US elected officials via the Senate and House contact pages. And I recommend you include your Governor to get support at the local level. You can find your Canadian representatives here.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Consultant, author, and blogger Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, grant writing and the future of museums for a wide variety of clients. Read Ms. Woody’s other blog posts and check out Lucidea’s unrivaled CMS, Argus, that empowers you to pursue your digital museum vision and make it a reality.   

 

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