I’ll admit that I’m biased, but I must say that the nonprofit sector has some truly excellent people working on its behalf in Washington, D.C. You know who also has smart, strategic, and well-connected lobbyists making their case on Capitol Hill? Everybody else.
Thankfully, nonprofit organizations of every type have a different currency that can’t be beat: we are beloved institutions making a difference in the community. What politician in their right mind wouldn’t want to be associated with that? But if we only engage with legislators by showing up at their offices and talking about policy, we’ve squandered our advantage.
That’s why perhaps the single most powerful thing nonprofits can do to influence legislators is to find ways to let them experience our work firsthand. One example is, The Massillon Museum—a local art and history museum in Massillon, Ohio—that has a long tradition of engaging with their elected officials, including annual participation in the American Alliance of Museums’ Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum week.
“Getting our elected officials to understand the dynamics of our organization educates them about the value we bring to our community, and empowers them to advocate on our behalves,” reports Alexandra Nicholis Coon, the museum’s executive director. “It also helps cement a rapport that makes asking for support much easier.”
That support has manifested itself in many ways. Because of their engagement with legislators, the Massillon Museum has received letters of support for grant applications, increased access to capital funds in the state budget, and the opportunity to host Rep. Bob Gibbs’ (R-OH) district-wide high school art competition. The Congressman even facilitated a “Museum Mondays” social media campaign at sites around his district. This didn’t all happen overnight, as Coon notes, “We cannot expect our elected officials to support the work we do if we do not educate them about who we are, and how necessary we are to our communities.”
While Congress’ calendar for the rest of the year is still somewhat uncertain, now is the perfect time to invite your representatives to see your organization’s work (or the work it funds) firsthand. In addition to helping legislators learn about important community assets, a visit to your organization is also a whole lot more fun than sitting in a meeting or calling campaign donors. You’ll be doing them a favor!
Use Independent Sector’s August Advocacy Toolkit to help along the way, and keep our team posted about how it goes.